Pro-Israel Trolls Mob Social Media

While it kills thousands of people in Gaza, Israel is spending millions of dollars on its public image on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, writes Alan MacLeod. The  blitz includes an invasion of the Community Notes function on X/Twitter.

Trolling. (Kevin Reese, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Alan MacLeod
MintPress News

Almost as important as its military campaign for Israel is its battle to control its public image.

Even as it kills thousands of people in Gaza, the small Middle Eastern nation is spending millions of dollars on a propaganda war, purchasing ads on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other online apps.

At the same time, an army of pro-Israel trolls has invaded the Community Notes function on X/Twitter, attempting to influence the online debate around the ongoing crisis.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has inundated YouTube with advertisements, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs spending nearly $7.1 million on ads in the two weeks following Hamas’ incursion. According to journalist Sophia Smith Galer, this equates to almost one billion impressions.

With its campaign, the Israeli government overwhelmingly focused on rich Western nations, its top targets being France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States. In France alone, the ministry spent $3.8 million.

Other branches of the Israeli government undoubtedly also spent money on ads. The overwhelming message of the campaign was that Hamas are terrorists linked with ISIS and that Israel — a modern, secular democracy — is defending itself from foreign aggression.

Much of the content blatantly violated YouTube’s terms of service, including a number of ads featuring gory shots of dead bodies. Another ad that piqued public attention was played before videos aimed at babies. Amid a scene of pink rainbows and soothing music, text appears reading:

“We know that your child cannot read this. We have an important message to tell you as parents. 40 infants were murdered in Israel by the terrorists Hamas (ISIS). Just as you would do everything for your child, we will do everything to protect ours. Now hug your baby and stand with us.”

Nearly all the Ministry of Foreign Affairs views are inorganic. Most of their YouTube uploads garner only a few hundred views. But the ones selected as advertisements have hundreds of thousands or even millions of views.

Israel’s YouTube campaign has been matched by expansive attempts to control the public debate on other social media platforms. In barely a week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ran 30 ads seen over 4 million times on Twitter. Like with YouTube, analytics data shows they were inordinately targeting adults in Western Europe.

One ad contained the words “ISIS” and “Hamas,” showing disturbing imagery that gradually sped up until the names of the two groups blended into one. In case the message was not clear enough, it ended with the message, “The world defeated ISIS. The world will defeat Hamas.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also bought large numbers of advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, mobile games and apps such as language trainer Duolingo.

Taking Notes

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Jerusalem. (Almog, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

The Community Notes function on Twitter is an attempt to fight false information. Contributors who sign up for the feature can leave notes on any post, adding context to potentially misleading statements. The community then votes on these notes, and if enough people consider the note useful, it is presented below the original tweet.

While it has its advantages, the system is ripe for abuse and infiltration. Since Oct. 7, an army of pro-Israel trolls [Ed.: not necessarily linked to the Israeli government] has brigaded the function and is attempting to undermine and attack as many posts as possible that show Israel in a negative light or Palestine in a positive one. This has often been done in an attempt to hide Israeli war crimes.

A case in point is the attack on the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Under a tweet from journalist Dan Cohen noting that Hananya Naftali (an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) had boasted that Israel carried out the attack before then deleting his message, Community Notes wrote: “Naftali has openly retracted his statement as conclusive evidence has since shown [that] the explosion was fired from a misfired rocket from Gaza.” But the “conclusive evidence” offered was a statement from the Pentagon and a tweet from a former Israeli Air Force squad commander.

Meanwhile, a tweet from Lebanese political commentator Sara Abdallah breaking the news that Israel had just bombed the St. Porphyrius Church in Gaza was flagged by Community Notes.

This meant that all users saw a note added reading, “False. Saint Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza has posted they are untouched and operating as of October 9, 2023.” The problem was this was breaking news related to Oct. 19, so any statement before that time was meaningless in assessing the news.

Further undermining the community note was that Israel almost immediately accepted responsibility for the destruction.

Pro-Israel trolls haven’t been above blatant smears. On a popular post from myself where I shared a picture of Joe Biden and Netanyahu embracing with the words, “In the future, this image will be looked upon as one of the most shameful moments in history,” a Community Notes contributor proposed the message: “Alan MacLeod is a Senior Staff Writer at MintPress News. MintPress is renowned for publishing far-left disinformation and antisemitic conspiracy theories.”

Other MintPress staff, such as Lowkey and Mnar Adley, have also been consistently targeted with smears and arguments dressed up as clarifications.

“If you’re not a Community Notes contributor, then you may be unaware that any tweet about Gaza that poses an inconvenience to Israeli information interests is being mobbed by Israel apologists working to manipulate the narrative, including on tweets just voicing an opinion,” wrote journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

Seeing What Sticks

In the fog of war, the Middle Eastern network Al-Jazeera has been a consistent source of live reporting. The well-funded network has a large team of reporters in Palestine and the wider region and has a long history of covering the conflict.

Therefore, when Al-Jazeera released an investigation that found no evidence to support Israel’s claim that a failed Palestinian rocket launch was to blame for the damage at the Al-Ahli Hospital, the story went viral.

This was a major blow to Israel and its apologists, who did not want the blood of hundreds of innocent doctors and patients on their hands. And so, pro-Israel users attempted to get community notes plastered all over the Al-Jazeera story, including ones that read:

“This is false. Iron dome cannot intercept rockets during their ascend phase. It intercepts rockets during descent when their trajectory is more predictable. The crater is not consistent with an airstrike.” 

“Al Jazeera is a Qatari state-owned outlet, whose journalist independence has been questioned by the U.S. government, and Qatar hosts the political office of Hamas, one of the combatants. Furthermore, U.S. intelligence indicates the explosion was indeed a failed rocket.”

“Al Jazeera video digitally manipulated the hospital explosion moment time and IR image shown in the video can’t be used to judge rocket debris. Other sources already showed that the explosion at hospital yard is consistent with rocket debris and not with aerial attack.”

“If you watch the video Gaza has lights on in the footage of the missile being intercepted by the iron dome whereas in their own footage Gaza is dark. Suggesting that the videos are of different times.”

“[Israel apologists] are just throwing everything they can at it to get something to stick, solely because it is viral and inconvenient,” Johnstone responded. 

Wiki Wars

This is not the first time that Israel and its supporters have attempted to hijack and manipulate public highways of information. For over a decade, well-organized and well-funded Israeli groups have infiltrated Wikipedia and attempted to rewrite the encyclopedia to defend Israeli actions and demonize voices who speak out against them.

One of the most well-known of these is the Yesha Council, which, as far back as 2010, claimed to have 12,000 active members. Yesha members painstakingly police Wikipedia, removing troublesome facts and framing articles in a manner more favorable to Israel.

Those Yesha considers the “Best Zionist Editors” receive rewards, including free hot-air balloon rides. Between 2010 and 2012, this project was personally overseen and coordinated by future Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Yesha and other pro-Israel groups have ceaselessly targeted MintPress’ Wikipedia page, filling it with demonstrable falsehoods and misinformation. Wikipedia is aware of this problem but has refused to address it adequately, perhaps partly because of its co-founder Jimmy Wales’ unabashedly pro-Israel partisanship.

Another organized pro-Israel group is Act.IL, an Israeli government-sponsored app. Users of the app (which reportedly once had a budget of over $1 million per year) are encouraged to mass report posts, leave replies in comment sections of websites, or boost and share pro-Israel messages online. The point is to create a groundswell of artificial support for Israel in crucial forums in order to influence public opinion.

Spies Among Us

Unit 8200’s base in Sinai, between 1967 and 1982. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Wikipedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

One of the reasons that social media companies have not cracked down on disingenuous pro-Israeli activities could be that former Israeli government and military officials hold top positions at a great number of the world’s most important platforms.

Emi Palmor, for example, is one of 22 individuals who sit on Facebook’s Oversight Board. Palmor was formerly the general director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. In this role, she directly oversaw the stripping away of Palestinian rights.

Palmor created an “Internet Referral Unit,” which would push Facebook to delete Palestinian content that the Israeli government objected to. In her new role at the Oversight Board, she effectively writes Facebook’s rules, deciding what content to promote to the platform’s 3 billion users and what to censor, delete or suppress.

Palmor is also a veteran of Unit 8200, perhaps the most controversial unit in the Israeli military. Described as “Israel’s NSA,” Unit 8200 is the centerpiece of the country’s high-tech surveillance industry.

Unit 8200 spies on the Palestinian population, compiling vast dossiers on millions of people, including their medical history, sex lives and search histories, to be used for extortion later. Individuals found to be cheating on their spouse or engaged in homosexual activities are often distorted by the military and turned into informants.

One veteran admitted that, as part of his training, he was assigned to memorize different Arabic words for “gay” to listen for them in conversations.

Unit 8200 graduates have gone on to produce much of the world’s most controversial spying tools, which they have sold to repressive governments around the globe.

A MintPress News investigation unearthed a network of hundreds of Unit 8200 veterans working in influential positions at some of the planet’s most important tech and social media companies, including Google, Amazon and Meta (Facebook).

For example, Google’s head of strategy and operations for research, Gavriel Goidel, was previously a senior officer in Unit 8200, rising to become head of learning. Facebook Messenger’s head of data science, Eyal Klein, served for six years in Unit 8200, rising to the rank of captain. And after serving in the controversial unit, Ayelet Steinitz became Microsoft’s head of global strategic alliances.

Losing the Battle

While Israel is militarily dominant over its neighbors and its captive population, it is losing the battle for public opinion in the West.

Virtually every major city across Europe and North America has seen giant protests calling for a free Palestine. Meanwhile, despite near wall-to-wall support from top politicians and corporate media alike, pro-Israel demonstrations have been poorly attended.

Governments are siding with Israel. But the people are standing with Palestine.

And so, while Israel is perfectly capable of leveling Gaza, no matter how much it spends, how much propaganda it produces and how many dirty media tricks it plays, it seems it cannot convince the world to support its actions.

But that isn’t stopping it from trying.

Alan MacLeod is senior staff writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams. is an award winning investigative newsroom.  Sign up for their newsletter.

Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


9 comments for “Pro-Israel Trolls Mob Social Media

  1. Paula
    December 1, 2023 at 00:31

    I write on X a great deal with facts from history and talk about antisemitism and how it is used as a weapon. I used to get lots of notifications but hardly any at all these days. I’m not a techy guru and don’t know how to tell if I am being shadowed banned on X though I’ve looked it up on google yet can’t seem to exercise the precise direction. Need another X user to put me in their search engine to see if I come up. I spend a good deal of time researching and posting because information and truth are important but I’m about done with Twitter/X and think I will start more locally with organizing a community discussion group that puts out a newsletter. Would probably be more effective. I understand information or lack thereof is the Hybrid War in our country, vying for the minds, opinions, heart and soul of our nation. I will not give up or give in. Our first president, George Washington, warned us of the factions we are witnessing today in his farewell address to the nation. In it he says, ” a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country. . .” It goes on but were our current administration as wise. It is amazing that it still resonates today more than ever.

  2. Blessthebeasts
    November 30, 2023 at 18:28

    Israel is not seen as the victim anymore. They are obviously the oppressors and even on NPR’s Instagram, the horror is taking over the Zionist propaganda.

  3. Brent
    November 30, 2023 at 14:02

    Rashida Tlaib had the opportunity to inform the two most important allies for success, Americans and Jews,that Palestinian ambitions did not include the annihilation of Israel or its Jews. How to understand that, instead, she reinforced those self-defeating ambitions?

  4. Tony
    November 30, 2023 at 09:06

    In a way, this could be considered encouraging. It shows that Israel and its supporters are deeply worried about the populations in these countries. And they, let us not forget, have the power to shift policy.

    In the UK, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is deeply worried about the damage that his pro-bombing stance has caused to his party.

  5. November 29, 2023 at 19:29

    Murdering thousands of women, children and aged is not the only form of Israeli genocide. The truth is a victim as well. And the concept of antisemitism has been tarnished as it is being equated by Israel with criticism of clear Israeli crimes of lesse humanidad. Fortunately, a great many Jews such as the members of “Not in Our Name” are making it clear that Israel is not synonymous with Semite, or even with being Jewish. No one has more courage in combating Israeli ethnic cleansing, genocide and prevarication than they do.

    • Joseph
      November 30, 2023 at 19:11

      Thank you. So very well stated.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    November 29, 2023 at 15:45

    The double standard regarding foreign interference in social media can’t be lost on most astute observers of US policy on this subject. Israel gets to dump as much “disinformation “ as it likes onto social media in the US without registering as a hostile foreign agent yet anything Russian groups post is the Russian government attempting to thwart democracy. Yet we are not supposed to notice the hypocrisy. Funny how the public has become immune to these tactics.

  7. Eddie S
    November 29, 2023 at 12:29

    Good expose’ on the hasbaras on social media.
    A couple of random points relating to this article:
    1.) I wonder how effective advertising is nowadays, since most people I know tend to click-off or tune-out those things..?
    2.) I can’t help but contrast this to ’Russia-gate’, where the MSM and assorted politicos were losing their shit about the reputed Russian trolls and their activities on the Internet.

  8. susan
    November 29, 2023 at 12:20

    We all need to remind ourselves of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: hxxps://

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