Facebook Bans Israeli Firm Over Fake Political Activity
Social-media giant removes inauthentic accounts, content linked to Tel Aviv-based firm Archimedes Group. Facebook Bans Israeli Firm Over Fake Political Activity
Facebook Bans Israeli Firm
Facebook Inc. said it removed hundreds of fake accounts, pages and groups linked to a commercial entity based in Israel, a rare move against a private operation as the social network tries to stamp out misinformation around global elections.
The company Thursday said it took down a network of 265 accounts, pages and groups, including 65 Facebook and four Instagram accounts, that posted content primarily pertaining to elections and other political activity in Africa, as well as Latin America and Southeast Asia.
About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of the inauthentic pages, Facebook said in a blog post. Nine events—one dating back to October 2017 and one scheduled for May—were organized by the pages, though Facebook said it didn’t know if any events took place.
Archimedes Group didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Facebook has been working to remove bad actors from its platforms for years, but the latest incident appears to be the first involving a commercial entity, as opposed to a political or government-backed group, operating in a country that is a U.S. ally.
According to its website, Tel Aviv-based Archimedes Group promises clients it can “change reality according to our client’s wishes” and says it has taken “significant roles in many political and public campaigns, among them Presidential elections.” The company says it provides experts on social media, public relations, consulting and lobbying, and its website also displays photographs that appear to depict Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.
Archimedes Group is run by chief executive Elinadav Heymann, according to his biography on Negotiations.Ch, a Switzerland-based negotiation-training and consulting firm that had recently listed him as an expert on its website. Another man, Yuval Harel, lists himself as the CEO on his LinkedIn page.
Mr. Heymann was previously the director of the European Friends of Israel at the European Parliament in Brussels and worked as a spokesman and adviser in Israel’s parliament. He was also a senior intelligence agent in Israel’s military, according to Negotiations.Ch.
Mr. Heymann spoke earlier this year at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobbying group, about building Israel’s relationship with Africa.
Archimedes Group says it offers a campaign management suite, called Archimedes Tarva, that allows users to manage mass social-media campaigns with automation tools and unlimited account operation, according to its website.
In its post announcing the move, Facebook said it banned Archimedes Group and all of its subsidiaries from its platforms and issued a cease-and-desist letter.
The coordinated initiative Facebook said it identified shows the platform remains a popular target for those seeking to influence the company’s hundreds of millions of users by masquerading as ordinary users themselves. Russian propagandists used the social network to spread misinformation and political discord in the U.S. before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook has dismantled large numbers of fake accounts before. Last November, it said it removed 115 from Facebook and Instagram after being tipped off by U.S. law-enforcement officials that they were bogus and likely linked to foreign actors.
In January, Facebook said it was planning to make more information available world-wide about political ads purchased on its services. But the company’s repeated problems with bad actors, coupled with widespread complaints over its mishandling of users’ data, has prompted growing calls by U.S. and European lawmakers for tougher regulation.
Facebook currently faces a possible U.S. Federal Trade Commission fine of up to $5 billion over consumer-privacy violations.
Growing International Movement To Boycott Israel
Support for the BDS initiative is broad-based across Europe’s center-left, but Berlin’s resolution says its methods recall Nazi-era campaigns.
The German parliament condemned as anti-Semitic a growing international movement that targets Israel and called on the government to withdraw funding for events or institutions affiliated with the initiative.
The Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement, which originated in Palestinian circles, calls for academic, cultural, economic and academic boycotts of Israel. Support for BDS is broad-based across the European center-left, but it also has backing among segments of the far-right and the far-left as well as in some Islamist groupings. It has also gained traction in the U.S.
On Friday, a broad majority of German legislators supported a resolution titled “Decisively Oppose the BDS Movement and Fight Anti-Semitism” that strongly condemned the initiative and compared its methods to Nazi-era campaigns targeting Jewish businesses in Germany.
The resolution will immediately stop funding and other forms of support for BDS-related events from the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, but it isn’t binding on the government. A spokesman for the German government didn’t immediately comment on whether it would follow parliament’s lead.
Legislators specifically criticized the “Don’t Buy” stickers that the BDS movement attaches to Israeli products.
“The ‘Don’t Buy’ stickers that the BDS puts on Israeli products inevitably prompt associations to the National Socialist slogan ‘Don’t Buy From Jews!’ and the corresponding smears on facades and shop windows,” the resolution said in reference to Nazi oppression of German Jews.
After an emotional debate, a majority of legislators voted in favor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and its coalition partners the Social Democrats, as well as the opposition Free Democratic Party and the Greens. Lawmakers from the opposition party The Left mainly voted against the resolution, while all lawmakers for the Alternative for Germany abstained, arguing that the resolution didn’t go far enough and that BDS should be banned as an organization.
Most critics of the resolution said moving against the BDS movement could cut off German funding for moderate Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, but Bijan Djir-Sarai, a Free Democrat legislator who proposed the resolution, said the risk was small.
“This will have consequences for organizations that are also active in Germany and often act in an anti-Semitic way. It will be different for organizations that do real work and organize help for Palestinians,” Mr. Djir-Sarai told German public radio Friday. The resolution, he added, wasn’t about condemning criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
The Israeli government and many supporters of Israel have for many years opposed the BDS movement, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter that he welcomed the German parliament’s action.
More than 60 Israeli and Jewish academics warned against the resolution in a letter to the German parliament, however, arguing that it would equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.
In Germany, BDS regularly holds events at universities, public squares and concerts.
One of BDS’s founders, Omar Barghouti, was prevented from entering the U.S. last month after his visa was revoked for immigration reasons. Mr. Barghouti, who has said that Israel was an apartheid state, claimed in interviews that the entry ban was politically motivated.
More than two-dozen U.S. states have passed anti-BDS legislation, which is being challenged in some of them on grounds of free speech. Notable figures such as the musician Roger Waters, author Alice Walker, politician Jill Stein and cleric Desmond Tutu have supported BDS.
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