Revealed: Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
targeted in Israeli fake news operation
By David Smith, Michael McGowan ,
Christopher Knaus and Nick Evershed
December 06, 2019 "Information
Two Muslim US
congresswomen have been targeted by a vast
international operation that exploits
far-right pages on Facebook to inflame
Islamophobia for profit,
a Guardian investigation has found.
Israeli-based group uses 21
pages to churn out more than a thousand
coordinated fake news posts per week to more
than a million followers around the world.
It milks the traffic for revenue from
Ilhan Omar of
of Michigan, who earlier this year became
the first Muslim women to serve in the US
Congress, have been singled out for vicious
attacks by the coordinated effort.
Somali-born Omar is the most frequent
target. She has been mentioned in more than
1,400 posts since the network began two
years ago. Tlaib has been mentioned nearly
1,200 times. Both totals are far higher than
any other member of Congress.
Omar and Tlaib are members of a group of
progressive women of color known as “the
squad” that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
of New York and Ayanna Pressley of
Massachusetts. They have been subject to
racist insults from Donald Trump.
uncovered contacts between a group of
mysterious Israel-based accounts and 21
far-right Facebook pages across the US,
Australia, the UK, Canada, Austria,
by amplifying far-right parties and
vilifying Muslim and leftwing politicians.
Their content is a blend of distorted news
and pure fabrication.
analysis by Queensland University of
Technology’s digital media research centre
indicated a single entity is coordinating
the publication of content across the
Using web archiving services and domain
registry information, the Guardian has been
able to confirm a key figure in the network
is Ariel Elkaras, a thirtysomething jewelry
salesman and online operator living on the
outskirts of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
Several of the network’s websites were
either taken down or had large amounts of
content removed soon after the Guardian
approached Elkaras for comment. Public posts
on his Facebook profile were also deleted.
Elkaras did not respond to multiple requests
for comment via email and phone, but the
Guardian was able to track him down in the
Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv, where he
denied involvement in the network. “It’s
nothing related to me,” he said through a
uncovering of the network is likely to fuel
concerns that Facebook is failing to tackle
disinformation and hate groups ahead of next
year’s presidential election in the US.
director of research and advocacy at the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, said:
“Spreading disinformation and faux-reporting
through pre-networked social media accounts
and pseudo-news websites has been the
preferred tactic of the Islamophobia
industry for a very long time.
“These actors create entire media and
information ecosystems that inscribe
dangerous ideas and narratives in audiences
across the world. The impact isn’t personal
prejudice, alone. Rather, such
disinformation impacts our political
climate, actual laws, policies and overall
Omar, the first
member of the House of Representatives to
wear a hijab in the chamber,
has been subject to
hundreds of online death threats.
In September she accused Trump of
putting her life at risk
after the president retweeted a post that
falsely claimed she partied on the
anniversary of the September 11 terrorist
Omar told the Guardian: “As this report
makes clear, foreign interference – whether
by individuals or governments – is still a
grave threat to our democracy. These are
malicious actors operating in a foreign
country, Israel, spreading misinformation
and hate speech to influence elections in
the United States. The goal of these
anti-Muslim hate campaigns is clear – they
put Muslim lives here and around the world
at risk and undermine our country’s
commitment to religious pluralism.”
also slammed Facebook for its role in
allowing users to spread misinformation.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
Facebook’s complacency is a threat to our
democracy. It has become clear that they do
not take seriously the degree to which they
provide a platform for white nationalist
hate and dangerous misinformation in this
country and around the world. And there is a
clear reason for this: they profit off it. I
believe their inaction is a grave threat to
people’s lives, to our democracy and to
democracy around the world.
“When private corporations don’t act, we as
a nation need to think seriously about ways
to address the spread of misinformation
while protecting core values like free
When the Guardian notified Facebook of its
investigation, the company removed several
pages and accounts “that appeared to be
financially motivated”, a spokesperson said
in a statement.
“These pages and accounts violated our
policy against spam and fake accounts by
posting clickbait content to drive people to
off-platform sites,” the spokesperson said.
don’t allow people to misrepresent
themselves on Facebook and we’ve updated our
inauthentic behavior policy to further
improve our ability to counter new tactics.
“Our investigations are continuing and, as
always, we’ll take action if we find any
This article was originally
published by "The
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