As a ceasefire is emerging in Israel and Palestine, digital terror is not slowing down. Hatred, harassment and coordination of physical violence online are sprouting on social media. One Israeli group fighting disinformation and hatred cannot work fast enough.
From its offices in Israel, FakeReporter sends messages about Internet threats to the Israeli authorities, hoping to prevent them from becoming a reality. An oversight group of about 10 researchers, activists and online investigators, most of whom are volunteers, are digging up false information and fake accounts online. Previously, they focused on state-funded misinformation and were taken by surprise due to the rise of digital hatred in Israel.
“We’re watching the misinformation, so we weren’t ready for that situation in a way,” Achia CEO Shatz told BuzzFeed News.
Internet hate captures only part of the ongoing violence. In the process of fighting Israeli missiles 248 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children. Thirteen people in Israel, including two children, were killed sold by Hamas missiles. A ceasefire was agreed on May 21.
But for FakeReporter, the conflict has made it clear that divisions in Israeli society have led to hatred and physical violence online. Their team worked all day and long nights to catalog reports of violence, many of which crowdsourcing go through his website. Another organization, Democratic bloc, helps in research.
“Now we are in the task of saving lives.”
“We are now focused on saving lives,” Schatz said.
For the past two weeks, they have watched hate speech turn into street violence. They track almost 100 WhatsApp and Telegram channels, most of which are in Hebrew. Schatz said there was violence in Israel, including against Jewish residents, but far-right Israeli extremists were more organized.
“The ground was ready for such violence because I think the trend of racism in Israel has been growing for years,” Shatz said.
May 12 in Bat Yam, a seaside town south of Tel Aviv, an angry crowd attacked the man. FakeReporter watched it happen on the Telegram channels they tracked, and live on television when the state-owned broadcaster reported on it called lynching. The victim was driving to spend the evening on the beach when a man looked out the window of his car when she was stuck in a vehicle and asked him if he was an Arab. When he said “yes,” he was pulled out of the car and beaten when people shouted and filmed the incident on their phones.
The father of four survived, but was eventually hospitalized and badly injured. “I was walking to the beach [for] rest. I didn’t know that I would return to my children in this way, ”the victim said reported 12 news, the main information station in Israel. “Why am I guilty? How did I deserve it? Is it my fault that I was born an Arab? “
Ori Kohl, co-founder of FakeReporter, watched the scene unfold on both television and the Telegram. “We were trying to figure out what they were doing because they were uploading photos of what they saw and uploading images of violence to Telegram groups.”
Shatz said FakeReporter reported to the Israeli police before the attack, the day after and the next day, showing that extremists were threatening to shoot down people in Bat Yam. The messages observed by the group of observers were obvious: “I invite you to join the mass fight with the Arabs, which will take place today at 18:00 on the Bat Yam embankment. Bring the appropriate equipment, knives, swords, rifles, stones, wooden boards, machines with bull bars, ”one said.
Despite the warning, FakeReporter researchers could only observe the violence. “No one was sent to the ground,” Shatz said. “And a terrible thing happened.”
In the days following Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jar district in East Jerusalem and the storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque, extremists worried about the weapon and gave advice on where to get it, via Telegram and WhatsApp. According to screenshots seen by BuzzFeed News, they posted photos of knives, guns and batons, as well as posted racist swearing, incitement, false information and coordination of when and where to meet.
“There was a really deadly atmosphere on the streets.”
Cole, who is watching some groups, said: “There was a really deadly atmosphere on the streets.”
Tensions have been raised by right-wing influential figures such as Jair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister. With just over 130,000 subscribers on Twitter, the telegram channel added 1,500 subscribers over the past two weeks, as well as a podcast, he has taken on a role in Israel similar to that played by Donald Trump Jr. in the United States: uniting his father’s supporters online and spreading hatred towards their opponents.
After Israeli forces bombed a 12-story building in the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli military claimed, “Hamas military intelligence assets“(this did not answer US officials demanding evidence), destroying the offices and residences of the AP and Al Jazeera, Yair Netanyahu increased the number of attacks on the media. (In a statement after the incident, AP said there were “no signs that Hamas was in the building or actively working in it.”)
Included May 19, he tweeted a cartoon showing a crowd of people gathered around a water cooler while a man held a rocket launcher that stood between them. “Sheila works with Al Jazeera and I work with the Associated Press,” the woman told the man with the rocket launcher. “What’s the matter with you?”
Jair Netanyahu also retreated reports from popular American right-wing influential authorities, including Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza and Andy Ngo, as well as news such as Breitbart and the Federalist.
“Jair Netanyahu is using his platform on social media to provide an independent voice to the millions of conservatives in Israel who have sided with the Israeli media, who are very supportive of the right,” a spokesman for the BuzzFeed News family said. “Your article, which calls his followers“ far-right, ”is a great example of such media distortions in a county that is majority right-wing. And your attempt to denigrate Jairus only shows why independent voices like him are needed. “
On May 15, the day the AP and Al Jazeera terrorist attacks erupted, Jair Netanyahu called on Twitter to protest in front of the home of media chief Avi Weiss. The prime minister’s son then placed flyers calling for protests near media offices that read, “We are no longer talking about anti-Zionist media brainwashing.”
The protest was called off due to subsequent resonance, but FakeReporter noticed people sharing screenshots of Jair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least two cases, two people are discussing on video whether it would be better to go to the executive branch or to the media offices. On Sunday, Jair Netanyahu again called for protests against media representatives.
In recent days, members of the Israeli media have become victims of violence. Four journalists were attacked, reports the Jerusalem Post, including one of the public broadcasters who broadcast the Bat Yam mobbing.
“If we finish fucking Arabs, we will fuck the media,” – said in a message in a chat Telegram. Others called for the destruction of the studios and called Channel 12 “Al Jazeera in Hebrew” – a term popularized by Jair Netanyahu, which means sympathy for Hamas.
Jair’s messages are often food for Israeli far-right groups, said Teila Schwartz Altshuler, head of the Israeli Institute for Democracy’s Media Reform Program, which studies Israeli social networks and consults with FakeReporter.
“I’m worried, I’m very scared,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Because I think it’s a very gentle dog whistle, and right-wing extremists and right-wing activists, they clearly understand the messages that appear on Twitter. They lead them to WhatsApp or Telegram, and then suddenly they become a call to action. “
“His main contribution that we have seen in these Telegram groups has been in the last few days when the right in these groups has really started pointing to the media for what they consider unpatriotic and treacherous. [behavior]”said Cole.
The personal phone number of one well-known reporter and presenter of Channel 12 Dana Weiss was posted in groups along with messages like “congratulations to her on a job well done,” Cole reports. In other texts, she is referred to as a “jihad spokesperson” and distributes poorly photographed images in which she wears a hijab. As a result, she received many violent threats, including death threats.
Cole has seen how hatred on the internet over and over again leads to online violence.
“Violence starts online and moves on the street.”
“Violence starts on the internet and moves on the streets,” he said. “This is what we saw in our work at FakeReporter as the main lesson we were trying to convey. And the business is booming for lynching, inspired by the Internet, unfortunately, all over the world. “