All Cyber News Blog February 9, 2021

Staying Current

An Investigation Into a Suspended Facebook Network Supporting the Leader of the Palestinian Democratic Reform Current
palestine takedown headliner

On Thursday, January 28, 2021, Facebook suspended a network it identified which originated primarily in Gaza, but also in Belgium and the UAE. The network included 178 Pages, 3 Groups, 206 profiles and 14 Instagram accounts. Facebook shared these assets with the Stanford Internet Observatory a few hours before they were suspended. The network was suspended not due to the content of its posts, but rather for what Facebook terms coordinated inauthentic behavior; assets pretended to be people and entities they weren't. The operation primarily pushed narratives favorable to Mohammed Dahlan, the leader of the Democratic Reform Current, a faction of the Palestinian Fatah party. Content was mainly in Arabic and Hebrew, but there were also posts in French and English. 

This is the first time Facebook has publicized a takedown of accounts originating in Gaza. While we are aware of claims that Facebook has unfairly suspended Palestinian accounts in the past, we do not weigh in on this discussion. This report only analyzes this single network, which displays clear signs of inauthentic coordination and amplification, as well as impersonation of legitimate media entities.

Key Takeaways

  • The network contained a cluster of Pages that shared content favorable to Dahlan, often reposting from his own Twitter and Facebook accounts. Some of the recent content alluded to Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections that are scheduled to be held this year. This cluster exhibited very straightforward coordination, posting identical content at the same time, from the end of 2016 through the start of 2021. 

  • In addition to the cluster of Pages supporting Dahlan, the network included Pages that pretended to be authentic Israeli media outlets and a think tank. These Pages appeared to primarily repost content from legitimate media outlets and the legitimate think tank. Their role in the information operation is unclear.

  • This operation appears to have existed almost exclusively on Facebook. While many of the suspended profiles had thousands of friends and posted content with a similar slant to the Pages, the Pages themselves were small and had low engagement. We were not able to independently investigate the profiles in depth because Facebook alerted us to the network shortly before it was removed. 

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