As an incessant ceasefire begins in Israel – Palestine, digital terror does not slow down. Online hatred, harassment, and coordination of physical violence have emerged through social media channels. An Israeli group fighting misinformation and hatred cannot function fast enough.
From its offices in Israel, FakeReporter has sent online threat reports to Israeli authorities in hopes of preventing them from becoming a reality. The monitoring group of about ten researchers, activists and online researchers, mostly volunteers, delves into false information and online accounts. They had previously focused on state-sponsored misinformation and the growth of digital hatred in Israel left him baffled.
“We are a disinformation monitoring group, so in a way, we were not prepared for this situation,” executive director Achiya Schatz told BuzzFeed News.
Online hatred captures only part of the ongoing violence. In the course of the fighting, the Israeli rockets killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. Thirteen people in Israel, including two children, they were killed by rockets launched by Hamas. On May 21, a ceasefire was agreed.
But for FakeReporter, the conflict made it clear that divisions within Israeli society have led to online hatred and physical violence. His team has been working full days and long nights to catalog the violent messages, many of which are provided through his website. Another organization, Democratic Bloc, helps with research.
“Right now we have a mission to save lives.”
“Right now we have a mission to save lives,” Schatz said.
Over the past two weeks, they have seen how hate speech has translated into street violence. They are monitoring about 100 WhatsApp and Telegram channels, most in Hebrew. There has been violence throughout Israel, Schatz said, even against Jewish residents, but far-right Israeli extremists have been more organized.
“The ground was ready for this violence, because I think the trend of racism in Israel has been rising for years,” Schatz said.
On May 12 in Bat Yam, a coastal city south of Tel Aviv, a cruel mob attacked a man. FakeReporter watched as it happened on the Telegram channels they were watching and live on television as the state broadcaster narrated what called lynching. The victim he was about to spend the night on the beach when a man looked out the car window while he was stuck in traffic and asked if he was Arab. When he said yes, he was dragged out of his car and beaten while people shouted and filmed the incident on their phones.
The father of four survived but ended up hospitalized and badly injured. “I was going to the beach [for] free time. I didn’t know I would go back to my kids like that, ”the victim said he told Channel 12 News, one of the main news in Israel. “Why am I to blame? What have I done to deserve it? Is it my fault that I was born Arab? ”
Ori Kol, co-founder of FakeReporter, saw how the scene unfolded on both television and Telegram. “We tried to see what they were doing, because they were uploading images of what they saw, uploading images of the violence to the Telegram groups.”
Schatz said FakeReporter filed reports with Israeli police ahead of the attack, day in and day out, showing extremists threatening to beat people in Bat Yam. The messages seen by the group of vigilantes were explicit: “I invite you to join a massive fight against Arabs that will take place today at 18:00 on Paseo Bat Bat. Bring the right equipment, knives, swords, weapons, rocks, wooden boards, cars with bullet bars, ”said one.
Despite his warning, FakeReporter investigators could only see how the violence occurred. “No one was sent ashore,” Schatz said. “And something horrible happened.”
In the days following the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah district, east of Jerusalem, and the assault on the al-Aqsa Mosque, extremists became enthusiastic about weapons and gave advice on how to do so. reach them through Telegram and WhatsApp channels. They posted photos of knives, guns and clubs, according to screenshots seen by BuzzFeed News, in addition to posting racist insults, incitement, misinformation and coordination about when and where to meet.
“It’s been a really deadly atmosphere on the street.”
Kol, who oversees some of the groups, said: “It’s really been a deadly atmosphere on the streets.”
Tensions have sparked right-wing influences such as 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 in a podcast, he has taken on a role in Israel similar to what Donald Trump Jr. play in the United States: Gather your father’s online supporters and spread hatred against his opponents.
After Israeli forces bombed a 12-story building in Gaza that the Israeli military claimed contained “Hamas military intelligence assets“(it he did not answer Yair Netanyahu stepped up his media attacks, destroying AP and Al Jazeera offices and residences. (In a statement after the incident, AP dit there was “no indication that Hamas was in the building or active in the building”).
Turned on May 19th, tweeted in a cartoon showing a crowd of people gathered around a water cooler, with a man holding a rocket launcher between them. “Sheila works with Al Jazeera and I’m with the Associated Press,” the woman tells the man with the rocket launcher. “How about you?”
Yair Netanyahu has also been retweeting coverage of influential popular right-wing Americans, including Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza and Andy Ngo, and news like Breitbart and the Federalist.
“Yair Netanyahu uses his social media platform to provide an independent voice to millions of Israeli conservatives who are outside the Israeli establishment media, who are very biased against the right,” a spokesman for BuzzFeed News said. the family. “Your article labeling your followers as ‘far right’ is a perfect example of these media distortions in a right-wing majority county. And your attempt to discredit Yair only demonstrates why independent voices like his are needed.” .
On May 15, the same day the AP and Al Jazeera building were bombed, Yair Netanyahu tweeted a protest call in front of the home of media executive Avi Weiss. The prime minister’s son then posted leaflets calling for protests in media offices saying, “Let’s not say more about the anti-Zionist brainwashing of the media.”
The protest was canceled due to the subsequent shout it received, but FakeReporter has noticed that people shared screenshots of Yair Netanyahu’s tweets. In at least one case, two people discuss on video whether it would be better to go to the executive’s house or to the communications offices. On Sunday, Yair Netanyahu again called for protests against members of the media.
In recent days, members of the Israeli media have been victims of violence. Four journalists have been attacked, according to the Jerusalem Post, including one of the public broadcaster that broadcast the mobbing Bat Yam.
“When we finish fucking the Arabs, we’re going to fuck the media,” he said in a message in a Telegram chat. Others called for the 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 Israeli Institute of Democracy, which studies Israeli social media and consults with FakeReporter.
“I worry, I’m very scared,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Because I think it’s a very delicate dog whistle and 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 have seen to these Telegram groups has been in recent days where the rights of these groups have begun to point to the media for what they consider unpatriotic and treacherous. [behavior]”, Said Kol.
The personal phone number of a prominent Channel 12 reporter and presenter, Dana Weiss, was posted to groups alongside messages such as “congratulating her on a job well done,” according to Kol. Other texts call her “a spokeswoman for jihad” and spread poorly photographed images of her in a hijab. As a result, she he received dozens of violent threats, including death threats.
Kol has seen online hatred lead to offline violence over and over again.
“Violence starts online and moves on the streets.”
“The violence starts online and moves to the streets,” he said. “It’s something we’ve seen in our work at FakeReporter as the main lesson we’ve been trying to convey. And the business is booming for online-inspired lynchings, unfortunately, all over the world. ”