During the 2021 Gaza war, the Israeli military conducted a covert social media operation in an effort to improve the Israeli public’s view of its performance in the conflict. The Israeli army admitted on Wednesday that it made a “mistake” in launching the secretive influence campaign on social media. This campaign, which sought to praise the military’s bombing campaign in Gaza, failed to gain traction. The Haaretz daily was the first to expose the social media operation, reporting that the army used fake accounts to conceal the campaign’s origin and engage audiences on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Targeting Right-Wing Israelis

The accounts posted and amplified footage and images of destruction in Gaza with the Hebrew hashtag “Gaza Regrets” in a bid to counter viral images showing Palestinian rockets bombarding Tel Aviv. The accounts targeted right-wing Israelis, tagging popular conservative TV hosts and politicians like current National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and posting in groups of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters with the aim of spreading the message to sympathetic audiences. The hashtag failed to leverage audiences, garnering few if any likes and shares.

Uri Kol, a digital campaign expert, said the revelation could hint that the army has employed the tactic secretly against Israelis before. “With the military’s tight censorship laws, the army always has the last word in what gets published and what doesn’t,” he said. “What we see here is a tiny facet of an online manipulation campaign that we haven’t ever seen before.”

The Israeli military conceded that it also coordinated the campaign with real social media influencers, providing them with images and hashtags to talk up the military’s achievements and showcase the damage it inflicted on Gaza. But all the army’s efforts came to naught. The military claimed it approached social media influencers who joined the operation in an official capacity as the military’s spokesperson’s unit.

First Known Time Military Influence Campaign

This is the first known time that a military influence campaign has targeted Israeli citizens. Although the Israeli military has frequently employed inauthentic social media accounts to gather intelligence on Arab states and on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the use of fake accounts against Israeli citizens marks a new development. In retrospect, the Israeli military admitted that the use of these accounts was a mistake, but the incident raises concerns about the army’s tactics and its relationship with the media.