Muslim US congresswomen targeted by Israeli fake news campaign
The campaign stemming from a shadowy Israeli group targeted Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both of whom had been vocally critical of the Israeli state since becoming the first Muslim women to serve in the US congress earlier this year.
The group posted over a thousand fake news posts on 21 far-right Facebook pages per week, stoking Islamophobia through demonising Muslim politicians, attacking left-wing lawmakers, and playing up far-right political parties.
The posts reached more than a million followers in the US, Australia, UK, Austria, Israel and Nigeria, the report said, adding that the pages had earned advertising revenue from the traffic.
"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," the report said.
Tech giant Facebook told The Guardian that it has taken down many of the identified posts and accounts for using misinformation to generate advertising revenue - but failed to address the hateful nature of the posts.
Both congresswomen are part of a group of progressive ethnic women known as "the squad", that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
They have been the target of bigoted rhetoric by US President Donald Trump and have received death threats from far-right white supremacists.
In her comments to The Guardian, Omar put the blame on the social media platform.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Facebook's complacency is a threat to our democracy," said Omar. "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," Omar added, "they profit off it."
Facebook has come under pressure to more aggressively and transparently tackle misinformation aimed at sowing division and confusion around elections, following revelation that Russia used Facebook to sway the 2016 US presidential election.
Earlier this year, the social media platform busted an Israeli company running an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries.
Many of the accounts and pages were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that boasts of its social media skills and ability to "change reality".
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