An in-depth examination by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs has found hundreds of fake accounts tied to the #BoycottEurovision2019 campaign. The campaign was aimed at “coordinated manipulation” of public opinion against the popular song contest, violating the platform’s terms & conditions. Targeted individuals included Madonna and performers scheduled to perform at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Israel including Bilal Hassani (France), Alessandro Mahmood (Italy), Michael Reiss (Britain) and Sarah McTernan (Ireland).
“Today we have revealed the fake social media campaign to pressure artists performing in this year’s Eurovision to boycott the contest. Instead of believing in culture as a tool to unite, Israel’s detractors try to use it to divide.” –
Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan
Tel Aviv, Israel — May 2, 2019 — Today, Minister Gilad Erdan’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs revealed a synchronized campaign of fake bot accounts against this year’s Eurovision Song Contest to be held this month in Israel under the hashtag #BoycottEurovision2019. “Coordinated manipulation” campaigns are banned under Twitter’s terms and conditions. Among the performers targeted were Madonna, Bilal Hassani (France), Alessandro Mahmoud (Italy), Michael Rice (UK) and Sarah McTernan (Ireland), and participating countries’ broadcast authorities. It is estimated that the tweets had a potential reach of 9.7 million users.
Beginning in November 2018, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs launched an in-depth examination of the social media influence campaign to boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Israel, leading to its release by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs titled, “The Big Scam- How BDS is Manipulating Social Media against Eurovision 2019”.
The report revealed data indicating the use of a number of fraudulent methods – including bots and fake accounts using “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior” to create the appearance of an authentic and wide-spread campaign, while hoping to manipulate public opinion, against artists performing at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
The campaign was originally launched under the hashtag #BoycottEurovision2019 by PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), the academic arm of the BDS National Committee (BNC) operating from Ramallah with close ties with the PNIF (Palestinian National Islamic Forces), an organization which is comprised of many Palestinian organizations including five terror groups, among them; Hamas, the PFLP and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Two #BoycottEurovision2019 Twitter storms were also discovered to have been organized by an organization called #GroupPalestine.
#BoycottEurovision2019 is the most recent example of fraudulent methods used against artists planning on performing in Israel. Past cases include a fake-user Twitter campaign launched late last year against the singer Lana Del Rey, in which Twitter bots were found to have partaken in pressuring the artist to cancel her planned visit. Such actions are in line with practices employed by the cultural boycott campaign against artists and cultural figures intending to perform in Israel – which range from exerting indirect pressure to behind-the-scenes physical threats to the individual or his/her family, intimidation and shaming.
The Big Scam report reveals 191 fake accounts took part in the #GroupPalestine Eurovision boycott campaign, 157 of them bots. It also exposed that the current boycott Eurovision campaign was carried out with the support of Bassem Na’im, a senior official in the terrorist group Hamas who holds the group’s BDS portfolio. Na’im participated in two “Twitter storms” (Feb 24, 2019 and March 23, 2019) targeting artists participating in Eurovision 2019.
Information about the fraudulent accounts was sent to Twitter and the European Broadcasting Union for further processing. To date, dozens of the accounts whose details have been transferred have been closed or removed.
Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said: “Today we have revealed the fake social media campaign to pressure artists performing in this year’s Eurovision to boycott the contest. Instead of believing in culture as a tool to unite, Israel’s detractors try to use it to divide. Israel is a vibrant democracy which provides a safe-haven of freedom in the Middle East for its wide mix of cultures, people and religions. I call on all artists of the world to reject BDS’s hate-filled and bigoted campaign and continue to unite the world with their music.”
The study included 3 types of campaign accounts:
- Bot: An account whose content is created by human operators and is proliferated automatically by software. An account that is used as a bot is usually a fake, but it can also be an authentic person who “volunteers” his or her profile for automated activity, perhaps to avoid Twitter’s defense mechanisms against deceptive activity on its platform. Its posts may repeat within minutes or even seconds, usually with no particular attention to the account’s authenticity, and with very few personal references to the content published. The bots were exposed on the basis of coordinated inauthentic behavior in the accounts examined.
- Troll: An active fake account operated periodically by an authentic person, but without the details of the person operating it, but rather fictitious information. Most of its posts and reactions revolve around the same subject, and it creates and forces discussion on this issue in various forums.
- Avatar/ Fake Account: An account with high reliability, with background and personal details appearing to be authentic, varied but non-random contacts, and with areas of interest not limited to a single issue or agenda. Such accounts are intended for long-term use and their use for a specific attack is less common.
Samples of Bot Usage
Bots were identified by frequency and content of their tweets. Repeated content among other bots and a high number of tweets within a short period usually signified the use of a bot. In the example below, this bot account tweeted 5 separate times in a single minute.