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LONDON: An Iranian disinformation unit is targeting ultra-Orthodox and nationalist Jews on Facebook in a bid to stoke tensions with Palestinians in Israel, a watchdog has revealed.

According to Israeli disinformation watchdog organization FakeReporter, the alleged online campaign allegedly operated on various social media platforms, including Facebook, and presented itself as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish media group supporting far-right groups.

The watchdog claimed the aim of the campaign was to fuel ‘religious warfare’ by amplifying ‘fear, hatred and chaos’.

After being approached by FakeReporter, Facebook and Twitter reportedly deactivated the group’s pages and associated profiles. The network, however, remained active on Telegram.

Facebook said the accounts were likely an attempt by the networks to resurface after some were taken down in March.

The Aduk (or Strictly Religious) group was created as a Hebrew acronym for virtual religious union for the religious community. He shared articles and messages supporting far-right politicians, encouraged protests and incited anti-government and anti-Arab sentiment.

FakeReporter’s managing director, Achiya Schatz, said: “We see this network growing in the wake of the events of May, when Israel was at one of the lowest points in its history in relations between citizens. Jews and Arabs.

He noted that the networks had gone to extreme lengths to appear authentic, including stealing online identities and setting up fake shops in Israeli cities.

“It’s another concern because these networks are becoming more and more developed, to see them connecting with such extremists and violent groups…they know Israeli politics very well,” Schatz added.

Social media sites have come under fire over the past year for the large number of disinformation networks operating on their platforms. These networks spread propaganda on topics related to COVID-19, vaccines and climate change, and have incited extremism, tension and violence.

Meta’s 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior report found that the platform took down at least 52 disinformation networks originating from more than 30 countries.

In December alone, Meta deleted eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts from Iran that primarily targeted audiences in the UK with propaganda.

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