As a restless ceasefire engages in Israel-Palestine, digital terror will not slow down. Online hatred, harassment and coordination of physical violence have sprung up on social media channels. An Israeli group fighting disinformation and hatred may not work fast enough.
From its offices in Israel, FakeReporter has sent online threat reports to Israeli authorities, hoping they will prevent them from becoming a reality. The watchdog group of about 10 researchers, activists and online investigators who are largely volunteers digs into false information and false online accounts. They had previously focused on state-sponsored disinformation and have been warned about the growth of digital hatred in Israel.
“We are a group of disinformation watchdogs, so in a way, we were not ready for this situation,” Achiya Schatz, Executive Director, told BuzzFeed News.
Online hatred captures only part of the ongoing violence. In the course of the struggle, the races of Israel killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. Thirteen people in Israel, including two children, they were killed from rockets fired by Hamas. A ceasefire was accepted on May 21.
But for FakeReporter, the conflict made it clear that divisions in Israeli society have led to online hatred and physical violence. His team worked whole days and long nights to catalog the violent messages, many of which are crowdsourced through his website. Another organization, Democratic Bloc, helps with research.
“Today we are on a mission to save lives.”
“Today we are on a mission to save lives,” Schatz said.
For the past two weeks, they have seen how hate speech translates into street violence. They monitor almost 100 WhatsApp and Telegram channels, most in Hebrew. There has been violence in Israel, Schatz said, even against Jewish residents, but far-right Israeli extremists have been more organized.
“The ground was ready for such violence, because I think the trend of racism in Israel has been growing for years,” Schatz said.
May 12 in Bat Yam, a seaside town south of Tel Aviv, a vicious crowd has attacked a man. FakeReporter saw it happen on the Telegram channels they were monitoring and live on television while the State broadcaster narrated what called a lynx. The victim was about to spend his evening on the beach when a man stared out the window of his car while stuck in traffic and asked him if he was Arab. When he said yes, he was dragged from his car and beaten while people shouted and filmed the incident on their phones.
The father of four survived but ended up in hospital and seriously injured. “I was going to the sea.” [for] free time. I didn’t know I was going to return that to my children, ”the victim said he told Channel 12 News, a leading news station in Israel. “Why am I to blame?” What did I do to deserve this? Is it my fault that I was born Arab? “
Ori Kol, co-founder of FakeReporter, has seen the scene take place on both television and Telegram. “We were trying to see what they were doing, because they were uploading pictures of what they were seeing, uploading pictures of the violence to the Telegram groups.”
Schatz said FakeReporter presented reports to Israeli police before the attack, the day after, showing extremists threatening to beat people in Bat Yam. The messages the watchdog group saw were explicit: “I invite you to take part in a mass fight against the Arabs that will take place today at 6pm on the Bat Yam promenade. Bring the right tools, knives, swords, rifles, rocks, wooden boards, carts with bull barrels, ”said one.
Despite their warning, FakeReporter researchers were unable to warn that violence had occurred. “No one was sent to land,” Schatz said. “And a horrible thing happened.”
In the days following the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah and the assault on the al-Aqsa mosque, extremists have taken up arms and given advice on where to go. bring them through Telegram and WhatsApp channels. They posted photos of knives, guns and sticks, according to screenshots seen by BuzzFeed News, in addition to posting racist insults, incitement, false information and coordination on when and where they met.
“It was really a deadly atmosphere on the street.”
Kol, who oversees some of the groups, said: “It was really a fatal atmosphere on the street.”
Inflaming tensions have been right-wing influencers like Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister. With just over 130,000 followers on Twitter, a Telegram channel that added 1,500 followers in the last two weeks, and a podcast, he has taken on a role in Israel similar to the one that Donald Trump Jr. play in the United States: rallying dad’s online supporters and spreading hatred against his opponents.
After Israeli forces bombed a 12-story building in Gaza that the Israeli army said it contained “Hamas military intelligence assets“(it he did not answer to U.S. officials demanding proof), destroying the offices and residences of AP and Al Jazeera, Yair Netanyahu has stepped up his attacks on the media. (In a statement after the incident, AP he said there was “no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building”)
On May 19th, he tweeted a cartoon showing a crowd of people gathered around a water cooler, with a man holding a rocket launcher standing between them. “Sheila works with Al Jazeera and I’m with the Associated Press,” the woman tells the man with the race launcher. “How about you?”
Yair Netanyahu has also received coverage from right-wing American influencers, including Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, and Andy Ngo, and news outlets such as Breitbart and the Federalist.
“Yair Netanyahu uses his social media platform to provide an independent voice for millions of conservatives in Israel who are being pushed out of the media by the Israeli establishment, which is very prejudicial against the right,” he told BuzzFeed News a family spokesman. “Your article labeling its followers as’ far right ‘is a perfect example of such media distortions in a county that is majority-right. And your attempt to smear job against Yair shows only why independent voices like’ and theirs are necessary. “
On May 15, the same day with the AP and Al Jazeera bombing of the ship, Yair Netanyahu tweeted a call for a protest in front of the home of media executive Avi Weiss. Afterwards, the prime minister’s son sent leaflets calling for protests outside the media offices saying, “Let’s not talk more about the anti-Zionist brainwashing of the media.”
The protest was canceled due to the subsequent revolt received, but FakeReporter noted that people shared screenshots of Yair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least one example, two people discuss on video whether it would be better to go to the executive’s house or in the media. On Sunday, Yair Netanyahu called for further protests against members of the media.
In recent days, members of the Israeli media have been victims of violence. Four journalists were attacked, according to the Jerusalem Post, including one of the public broadcasters who broadcast the mobbing Bat Yam.
“When we’re done exploring the Arabs we’re going to explore the media,” he said in a message in a Telegram chat. Others called for a destruction of studies and called Channel 12 “Al Jazeera in Hebrew,” a term popularized by Yair Netanyahu that implies sympathy for Hamas.
Yair’s messages are often fodder for Israeli far-right groups, according to Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, head of the Media Reform Program at the Institute for Israeli Democracy, which studies Israeli social media and consults with FakeReporter.
“I’m worried, I’m very scared,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Because I think to myself that it’s a very delicate dog track and that right-wing extremists and right-wing activists understand exactly the messages that appear on Twitter. They take them to WhatsApp or Telegram and suddenly they become a call to action ”.
“Their main contribution we’ve seen to these Telegram groups has been in the past few days where the rights of these groups have really started to point to the media for what they see as unpatriotic, treacherous. [behavior]”, Said Col.
The personal phone number of a prominent reporter and Channel 12 anchor, Dana Weiss, was posted on the groups alongside messages such as “congratulations on the job well done,” according to Kol. Other witnesses called her “a spokesperson for Jihad” and circulated images of photoshopped images of her wearing a hijab. As a result, she he received dozens of violent threats, including death threats.
Kol has seen that online hatred leads to offline violence repeatedly.
“Violence starts online and moves on the street.”
“Violence starts online and moves on the streets,” he said. “It’s something we’ve seen in our work at FakeReporter as the main lesson we’re trying to convey. And business is booming for online-inspired links, unfortunately, around the world.”