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Israel carried out sloppy $2M influence campaign to sway U.S. lawmakers online using sock puppet accounts… and GOT CAUGHT
By Cassie B. // Jun 09, 2024

An eye-opening new report exposes how Israel organized and paid for an influence campaign aimed at encouraging American lawmakers to support the Jewish state in its bloody war in Gaza.

This is according to a report in the New York Times based on information from unnamed Israeli officials as well as documents outlining the operation. The body behind the effort was Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, which is tasked with helping Jewish people around the world connect with Israel. The ministry reportedly spent $2 million on the covert campaign and hired a political marketing firm in Tel Aviv known as STOIC to carry out the plan.

It is believed to have started not long after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that saw around 1200 people killed and a further 250 taken hostage. This prompted a strong and swift Israeli response, and the Israel Defense Forces have been fighting Hamas in Gaza ever since, killing more than 36,000 Palestinians in the process and drawing a slew of strong international criticism. Although President Biden recently signed a military aid package for Israel to the tune of $15 billion, many Americans are opposed to the war and growing increasingly outraged over the rising death toll in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Times, dozens of Israeli tech startups were invited to participate in meetings about becoming “digital soldiers” for the Jewish state during the war, and some of the invitations came directly from officials with the Israeli government.

This expensive influence campaign created hundreds of fake social media accounts that appeared to belong to American students and citizens who were concerned about what was going on in the Middle East. These accounts made numerous comments in favor of Israel on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and X and their emphasis on supporting Israel's war efforts was part of a concerted effort to get the attention of American lawmakers and convince them to support ongoing funding for the Israeli military.

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They also made posts that downplayed claims of Israel committing human rights abuses and even smeared Palestinian rights groups in a campaign that launched more than 2,000 coordinated comments a week.

At least 128 American lawmakers were reportedly targeted by the campaign, and black Democrat lawmakers are believed to have been a particular target, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Representatives Ritchie Torres (D-New York), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Shontel Brown (D-Ohio).

The paper reports that STOIC also created a trio of fake English news sites featuring articles that were favorable toward Israel, many of which had been stolen from more reputable media outlets. Meanwhile, many of the social media posts that the fake accounts posted were generated using ChatGPT.

Campaign was sloppy and easily detected by some platforms

The effort was very sloppy, with some accounts using profile photos that did not match the content of the posts, such as profile photos of black men making posts about being middle-aged Jewish women. More than 100 featured the same sentence: “I gotta reevaluate my opinions due to this new information.”

The fake accounts that the campaign created have garnered more than 40,000 followers in total. Facebook owner Meta and ChatGPT owner OpenAI reportedly uncovered the operation and took steps to disrupt it; they ultimately concluded that the operation did not have a widespread impact and that many of those following the accounts were bots. Facebook has since blocked STOIC from its social media platforms, but the campaign is still active on X.

The Israeli Ministry for Diaspora Affairs denied involvement in a statement, which read in part: “We would like to clarify that neither the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs nor the Voices of Israel have any connection or collaborative activities with the company STOIC. Any claims suggesting otherwise are completely unfounded and inaccurate.”

Sources for this article include:




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