July 15, 2024
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Israel Losing Fight Against ‘Facebook Jihad’

Three months into the current wave of violence and it is clear the incitement on social media not only encourages the terror attacks, it also provides instructions on how to commit them. So why isn’t Israel, the cyber superpower, using its advanced technological capabilities to stop it?

One of the most shocking videos that has been making the rounds on social media over the past few weeks reviews, in blood-chilling detail, how to commit the optimal stabbing attack against Jews.

“Your little finger must be placed on the edge of the knife’s hilt, to stop the knife from slipping,” explains a masked man in a cold, mechanic voice, and then goes into greater detail: What stabbing movements are the best, which area in the body it is best to aim at, and what to do with the knife after stabbing, all so it would “cause the greatest amount of damage possible in the enemy’s body.”

Another video from the same “series” provides even more recommendations, including spraying K300 on the knife, to maximize the damage.

It’s unclear how many views these videos got, but it is safe to assume that if they made their way beyond Facebook to WhatsApp and Twitter, the numbers are very large. The indictments and the information that is piling up in the Shin Bet’s interrogation rooms show that many of the attackers in recent weeks watched and “learned” from videos like that.

And here is something that is less known: Israel—if it only wanted to—could have, most likely, caught the people behind these videos and those spreading them. In fact, Israel now has the technology to stop a considerable amount of the incitement on social media, and in many cases to apprehend the people behind it—and bring them to justice.

Except it almost never happens.

This Sunday would mark three months to the incident that Israel’s defense establishment considers the opening shot of the current wave of violence. All of the security officials in the field, with whom we spoke while researching this story, agree: What fuels the terror attacks is incitement, and primarily incitement on social media.

On every corner of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram one can easily find tutorials like the aforementioned video, and there are crueler ones still. At the same time, racist cartoons that could easily have appeared in the newspapers of the Third Reich are everywhere, and insane and delusional blood libels garner a frightening amount of “shares.” Even Arab pop stars are competing among themselves in an attempt to write the most extreme song that would win over the hearts of the masses.

“We can say with certainty that quite a large part of the attackers, even those who were killed, are not people motivated by deep-rooted ideology,” a senior intelligence official told us this week. “They were suffering from one kind of personal problem or another. And that is exactly the problem with incitement: It will mostly get those with the personal problems and affect them in an extreme way, driving them to commit terror attacks.”

With that being the case, it would make sense for all of Israel’s cyber-fighting bodies to be recruited to battle against this phenomenon. But, in reality, and despite the fact Israel is considered an international cyber superpower, the activity of all of these cyber-fighting bodies has hardly had any effect on the wild incitement prevalent online.

A Yedioth Ahronoth investigation found that despite the fact that hundreds of experts in the different security agencies are working on this issue, eradicating social media incitement is at the bottom of the list of priorities. Why is that? Each agency has its explanation. Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet say: This isn’t our job. We deal primarily with stopping terror attacks; the Israeli Police says: We’re not an intelligence agency and we don’t systematically monitor the information like Military Intelligence or the Shin Bet do, and that is why we cannot investigate the matter. And so forth.

Meanwhile, while security agencies are busy passing the responsibility from one to the other like a hot potato, the numbers are very clear: Since the beginning of the current wave of terror attacks, some 2,000 people have been arrested; out of those 2,000, only 55 were arrested on incitement charges—meaning some 2.75 percent. That’s it. From these 55, only 16 were incited for incitement.

The big question is now: Why is that?

The Israeli public treats incitement on social media as a kind of wild-weather hazard: It’s hard, it’s there, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Perhaps other than wait for spring. Except that reality is completely different.

“First of all, let it be clear: We are a superpower in our technological intelligence capabilities,” explains Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski, one of the top cyber-security experts in Israel. “The State of Israel’s intelligence agencies developed several capabilities, very few of which were made public, but many of which won Israel Defense Prizes.”

Without getting into details, what are we talking about?

“We can produce quality intelligence from conversations and we do so with a variety of measures. In the case of incitement, for example, we can learn about the existence of inciting content and we can even learn of the sentiment, meaning if the content is negative or positive. It saves a lot of time, money and manpower. We also have very advanced tracking capabilities, for example, if someone writes something on an anonymous forum.”

Dr. Kozlovski says that, at the moment, these systems are mostly being used for monitoring and analyzing of the general mood. So, for example, the systems can identify an increase in internet traffic and analyze what it means. If, after a terror attack, there is an increase in traffic and comments on certain websites, the system can tell if this is a show of public support of the attack, or a condemnation of it.

“In the intelligence field, this has very great value,” Kozlovski continues. “It is actually comments that appear non-violent to us, or comments made by people who are liking or sharing something, that allow us to mark operatives and help our intelligence agencies a lot.”

“There are actually three levels to this activity, that our intelligence agencies can do against terrorism in general and incitement online in particular,” says Prof. Gabi Weimann from the Department of Communications at the University of Haifa, who has been researching terrorism on the internet for 18 years and gives lectures to security officials from different agencies. “It’s called the MUD model—Monitoring, Using, Destruction.”

What does that mean?

“On the first level, monitoring is done. I don’t take down a website or attack it, because it’s an excellent source of intelligence. But I browse it and collect materials. The Americans, for example, used that a lot to monitor al-Qaeda.

“The second level is using or interfering. For example, interfering with the content can be done with a campaign against the narratives presented by the terror group. You can, for example, turn to these groups and try to present them with different content. This is a shadow war that no army would admit to.

“The third level is the destruction of Internet activity. Security officials know that these websites can come back online very quickly, but they slow the websites’ activity and destroy some of the pages they don’t want online at all.”

By Amir Shuan/Ynetnews

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