Twitter shut down 258 of the over 400 automated and fake accounts on Tuesday, associated with a scam that was exposed in the New York Times and Yedioth Ahronoth Monday, involving an army of fake social media accounts used to boost support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party.
Yitzhak Haddad, who was described as the heart of the network and operated under the user name "Bond", was one of the users Twitter blocked after the organization received a list of the fake accounts from the internet watchdog organizations that broke the story.
“Yossi Cohen” and “Moshe,” two other profiles suspected to have been part of the network, were also blocked by Twitter. “Moshe”, a profile that has been active since the beginning of 2018, made headlines yesterday when it was revealed his profile picture actually features a Greek model named Theo Theodoridis.
Twitter’s move is out of the ordinary, and only occurs when the organization’s supervising board believes illegal or inappropriate use is being made of the social network.
Following the ordeal, the Blue and White Party addressed the Central Election Committee and said the Likud party has been using illegal methods in their campaign.
“Netanyahu is leading a campaign of virtual terror against the citizens of Israel,” Benny Gantz, leader of the party said Monday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the fake account network was operated by him and his party, and said the profiles belonged to real people. In a press conference, Netanyahu introduced a man named Giora Ezra, a real estate manager from the central city of Yavneh, who goes by the user name “Captain George” — one of the accounts that the report deemed fake. Ezra would often use foul language to attack Likud opponents.
“Are you a bot? Are you real?” asked Netanyahu. "It is such a huge, transparent lie; false allegations," he said as he pointed to Ezra. "With a straight face they lie and say that these people who express themselves online are not real people. Meanwhile, all of them have turned out to be real, independent people with genuine opinions."
Among other thigs "Captain George" recently wrote, were praise for extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and that Benny Gantz "needs 50 psychiatrists." He called journalists "foul, stinking garbage," "dog," "sons of bitches." Ezra sat beside Netanyahu and Likud MK Amir Ohana, head of the Likud's LGBT chapter, who said issued no protest to the homophobic things Ezra tweeted to his opponents.
Ezra also delved into a multitude of conspiracy theories regarding Gantz alleging he was especially susceptible to blackmail and that he engaged in pedophilia. When talking to a reporter Monday, Ezra denied the tweet saying he had no idea what pedophilia is.
Some critics of the report used straw-man arguments, referring to things the report did not actually allege. For example: the Likud released a video that said the report called its many voters "bots," but the report did not claim that they were bots — fictitious accounts operated by a computer program — but rather profiles controlled by real people who conceal their identity and help spread misinformation or political spin.
Of the hundreds of accounts analyzed, very few used their real name. it is not a "bot network" but rather a coordinated network of people spreading pro-Likud and pro-Netanyahu propaganda against his opponents. The fact that the network is operated by humans and not machines makes it harder to detect. Most of the accounts were established in the last three years but only became active users after the elections were announced.
More than 97% of those users interacted with each other on a consistent basis through Likes and Shares. Activity surged following major events and announcements during the campaign period.