With unstable ceasefires continuing in Israel and Palestine, digital terrorism is not slowing down. Online hate, harassment, and orchestration of physical violence has spread through social media channels. No single Israeli group fighting disinformation and hate can operate fast enough.
From its offices in Israel, FakeReporter sends reports of online threats to the Israeli authorities, hoping to prevent them from becoming a reality. The monitoring group of about 10 online researchers, activists and investigators who are mostly volunteers searches false information and fake accounts online. They previously focused on state sponsored disinformation and were surprised by the increase in digital hatred within Israel.
“We’re a watchdog group for disinformation, so somehow, we weren’t prepared for this situation,” CEO Ashia Chatz told BuzzFeed News.
Hate on the Internet is only a part of the ongoing violence. In the course of the fighting, Israeli missiles 248 Palestinians were killed, Including 66 children. Thirteen people in Israel, including two children, were killed With Hamas rockets. A ceasefire was agreed on May 21.
But for FakeReporter, the conflict made it clear that divisions within Israeli society have led to online hate and physical violence. Their team works full days and nights cataloging violent messages, many of which are outsourced through their website. Another organization, Democratic Bloc, Search helps.
“We are now on a mission to save lives.”
“We are now on a mission to save lives,” Shatz said.
Over the past two weeks, they have seen hate speech translate into street violence. They monitor nearly 100 WhatsApp and Telegram channels, most of them in Hebrew. Schatz said that there was violence throughout Israel, including against the Jewish population, but that far-right Israeli extremists were more organized.
“The land was ready for such violence, because I think the trend of racism in Israel has been escalating for years,” said Schatz.
May 12 in Bat Yam, a coastal town south of Tel Aviv, A man was attacked by a sinister gang. FakeReporter watched what was happening on the Telegram channels they were watching and live on TV while the government broadcaster recounted what happened. It is called extrajudicial execution. The victim He was on his way to spend his evening at the beach when a man looked out of his car window while it was stuck in traffic and asked if he was an Arab. When he said yes, he was dragged from his car and beaten, as people shouted and filmed the incident on their phones.
A father of four survived but ended up in hospital and badly injured. “I was going to the beach [for] time is over. I didn’t know I would be returning like this to my children, ”the victim In Channel 12 NewsOne of the most important news stations in Israel. “Why do I blame? What did I do to deserve it? Was it my fault that I was born an Arab?”
Uri Cole, co-founder of FakeReporter, watched the scene unfold on both TV and Telegram. “We were trying to see what they were doing, because they were uploading pictures of what they saw, and uploading pictures of violence to Telegram groups.”
Shatz said that FakeReporter reported to the Israel Police before the attack, and the next day, the next day, extremists appear threatening to hit people in Bat Yam. The messages that the watchdog group saw were explicit: “I hereby invite you to join a group brawl over Arabs that will take place today at 6 pm in Bat Yam Park. Bring appropriate equipment, knives, swords, guns, rocks, planks, cars with bars.
Despite their warning, FakeReporter researchers were only able to witness the violence. “No one was sent to Earth,” Shatz said. “And something horrific happened.”
In the days that followed Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem and the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the extremists rejoiced with weapons and offered advice on where to deliver them via Telegram and WhatsApp. They have posted pictures of knives, guns, and batons, according to the footage seen by BuzzFeed News, as well as posting racist insults, incitement, false information, and coordination about when and where to meet.
“It was a really deadly street atmosphere.”
“It was a really deadly atmosphere on the streets,” said Cole, who watches some groups.
Inflaming tensions were right-wing influencers like Yair Netanyahu, son of the Israeli prime minister. With just over 130,000 followers on Twitter, it is a Telegram channel He added 1500 followers In the past two weeks, and on a podcast, he has played in Israel a role similar to that played by Donald Trump Jr. in the United States: rallying his father’s supporters online and spreading hate against their opponents.
After the Israeli forces bombed a 12-storey building in Gaza, which the Israeli army claimed contained.Hamas Military Intelligence assets” (He. She Did not respond To American officials who asked for evidence), and the destruction of offices and residences for the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, Yair Netanyahu increased his attacks on the media. (In a statement after the incident, The Associated Press He said “There was no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”)
On May 19He tweeted a cartoon showing a crowd of people gathering around a water cooler, and a man carrying a rocket launcher standing between them. “Sheila works with Al Jazeera and I am with the Associated Press,” the woman said to the man carrying the rocket launcher. “what about you?”
Yair Netanyahu has also retweeted coverage from famous American right-wing influencers, including Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, Andy Nguyu, and news outlets such as Breitbart and Federalist.
“Yair Netanyahu is using his social media platform to provide an independent voice to the millions of conservatives in Israel who have been marginalized by the Israeli media, which is heavily biased against the right,” a family spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Your article describing his followers as” far-right “is an excellent example of such media distortions in a majority-right-wing province. Your attempt at a smear function against Yair only shows why independent voices like his are necessary.”
On May 15, the same day as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera bombing, Yair Netanyahu tweeted a call to protest outside the home of Media Director Avi Weiss. Then the son of the prime minister published leaflets calling for protests outside media offices saying, “We don’t say anymore to brainwash anti-Zionists to the media.”
The protest was canceled due to the subsequent protest it received, but FakeReporter noticed people sharing screenshots of Yair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least one case, two people debate via video link whether it is better to go to the CEO’s home or the media offices. On Sunday, Yair Netanyahu again called for protests against the media.
In recent days, members of the Israeli media have been victims of the violence. Four journalists were attacked. According to the Jerusalem Post, Including one from the public broadcaster that aired the attack on Bat Yam.
“When we finish having sex with Arabs, we will have sex with the media,” one message said in a Telegram conversation. Others called for the studios to be destroyed and called Channel 12 “Al-Jazeera in Hebrew,” a term promoted by Yair Netanyahu indicating sympathy for Hamas.
Yair’s messages are often food for Israeli far-right groups, according to Tehila Schwartz Altshuler, head of the media reform program at the Israel Democracy Institute, who studies Israeli social media and consults with FakeReporter.
She told BuzzFeed News, “I’m worried, I’m so scared.” “Because I think for myself that it is a very sensitive whistle and the right-wing extremists and activists of the right, they understand exactly the messages that appear on Twitter. They take it to WhatsApp or Telegram and then all of a sudden it becomes a call to action.”
His main contribution that we’ve seen to these Telegram groups has been in the past few days as right-wingers in these groups have already started referring to the media for what they see as unpatriotic and traitorous. [behavior], ”Kol said.
The personal phone number of prominent Channel 12 reporter and broadcaster, Dana Weiss, was shared on the groups along with messages such as “Congratulations on a job well done,” Cole said. Other texts she calls “the spokeswoman for jihad” and posts photoshop images of her wearing a hijab. As a result, she is He received dozens of violent threats, Including death threats.
Kol has seen online hate lead to offline violence over and over again.
“Violence starts online and takes to the streets.”
“Violence begins on the Internet and spreads to the streets,” he said. “It’s something we’ve seen in our work at FakeReporter as the main lesson we’ve been trying to convey. The Internet-inspired lynch business is booming, unfortunately, all over the world.”