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AI Researchers: Israel Targets U.S. and Canada with Influence and Misinformation Campaigns on Gaza War

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
13th June 2024
AI Researchers: Israel Targets U.S. and Canada with Influence and Misinformation Campaigns on Gaza War
Israel is leading a campaign to reduce support for Palestinians in Canada (AP)

The Israeli government is facing claims, as reported by the New York Times and Israeli newspaper Haaretz, of orchestrating a campaign to reduce support for Palestinians in Canada. According to artificial intelligence researchers, this operation involves a social media influence campaign aimed at North Americans, spreading Islamophobic content.

Canada, U.S. Targeted by Islamophobic Social Media Campaign

The Israeli government is being accused in published reports of involvement in an operation flagged by AI researchers aimed at reducing support for Palestinians in Canada.

The New York Times and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel is behind a social media influence campaign targeting North Americans with Islamophobic content.

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A screenshot of the New York Times’ article.

Accounts under the name "United Citizens for Canada" have posted content depicting Canadian Muslims as a threat to Western values and suggesting pro-Palestinian protesters in Canada aim to implement Sharia law.

The Digital Forensic Research Lab, a project of the Atlantic Council, first highlighted these posts in an analysis in March.

On June 5, Haaretz revealed that the Israeli government was allegedly behind a "large-scale influence campaign" primarily aimed at Black lawmakers and young progressives in the United States and Canada. The purported objective, as per the newspaper, was to shape public opinion regarding Israel's actions in the conflict.

Simultaneously, the New York Times, reporting from Tel Aviv, detailed that the Israeli government funded an influence campaign targeting both politicians and citizens in the U.S. The campaign purportedly aimed to garner support for Israel's actions in the Gaza conflict. According to the Times, citing officials and documents, the campaign was "commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs" at an estimated cost of $2 million. STOIC, a Tel Aviv-based marketing firm, was reportedly hired by the government to run the campaign.

The New York Times and Haaretz reported that STOIC's work was contracted and financed by the Israeli government. 

Meta Closed 500 Accounts Linked to the Campaign

The accounts utilized AI-generated profile pictures and frequently posted similar messages, often aiming to attract press coverage directly from individual Canadian journalists and media outlets. 

According to the think tank, the group may have taken control of existing accounts. Meta stated that it opted to shut down associated Facebook profiles following inquiries from the think tank.

In its recent quarterly "adversarial threat report," Meta confirmed the closure of over 500 accounts connected to the campaign.

"This network originated in Israel and primarily targeted audiences in the United States and Canada," the report reads. Meta said the accounts were "posing as Jewish students, African Americans and 'concerned' citizens" and were involved in "creating fictitious news outlets."

"The campaign purchased inauthentic engagement (i.e. likes and followers) from Vietnam in an attempt to make its content appear more popular than it was," Meta's report reads.

"While the individuals behind it attempted to conceal their identity and co-ordination, we found links to STOIC, a political marketing and business intelligence firm based in Tel Aviv, Israel. It is now banned from our platform."

Despite Facebook, Instagram, and X suspending numerous accounts associated with the “United Citizens of Canada,” the campaign maintains an active yet sparsely populated website. The site advocates against "overly liberal immigration policies" but does not provide any contact information.

Canada Affirms 'Elements' of Alleged Israeli Misinformation Campaign

The Canadian government states it has corroborated “elements” of an alleged Israeli misinformation campaign targeting politicians and citizens amid the ongoing Gaza crisis.

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A screenshot of the Globe News’ article.

Global Affairs Canada acknowledges awareness of “reports of a divisive, coordinated, Islamophobic, and inauthentic information campaign” targeting Canadians and Canadian politicians.

The foreign department did not link the campaign directly to the Israeli government but stated that the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), set up to combat online disinformation and foreign interference, is investigating.

“While investigations are still ongoing, RRM Canada has been able to corroborate elements of these claims,” said James Emmanuel Wanki, a spokesperson for the foreign affairs department.

“At this time, RRM Canada has not been able to decisively attribute this network to a state actor.”

Global Affairs stated that while lacking evidence implicating the Israeli government, the Canadian government had directly “conveyed our concerns over these allegations directly to the Government of Israel.”

Israel Denies Link to Islamophobic Campaign in Canada

Israel's Embassy in Ottawa shared a statement from the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, along with the government agency Voices of Israel, both implicated in receiving funding for the influence campaign.

"The Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism and the Voices of Israel initiative categorically deny any involvement in disinformation campaigns," the statement reads.

"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."

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