Digital manipulation of online discussion about Israel
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
British political and media discourse about digital media manipulation typically focuses on the interference by countries like Russia, Iran or China, but says relatively little about to the role of Israel and its supporters.
In view of this we draw you attention to this article of September 2018, which is about an app with the scary name of ‘Act IL’. It helps us understand how far Israel and its supporters are prepared to go to control the terms of debate about antisemitism and impose the IHRA definition on western countries.
Ishmael N. Daro describes Act IL. as operating under the radar thanks to an army of thousands of volunteers who post comments and images, and follow commands to like or criticize other online content. In this way, it responds to criticism of Israel by news outlets and on campaigning NGOs websites by bombarding them with pro-Israel propaganda.
Daro tells us that Act IL. started during Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas in Gaza, when Israel wanted to combat a wave of international outrage over the lopsided death toll. Hundreds of Israeli university students joined a digital "war room" to post pro-Israel content on social media. Since then, it has harnessed the efforts of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers from around the world. A knowledgeable commentator describes it as a case of “advanced digital political astroturfing”.
Sheldon Adelson, the recently deceased casino billionaire, mega-donor and supporter of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, provided critical support to the development of the app. In addition to astroturfing campaigns, Act.IL has also taken part in activities that one activist likens to online harassment, and activities likely to get people fired from their jobs.