Israeli shell company accused of using social media to influence

Israeli shell company accused of using social media to influence dozens of elections around the world

A collective of investigative journalists working with Radio France’s investigative unit revealed that an Israeli group has influenced dozens of elections around the world, mostly in Africa and Europe.

The Forbidden Stories consortium conducted the Story Killers investigation, which reveals the action of an Israelbased disinformation agency.

Through fake social media accounts, espionage and lobbying, this disinformation cell would have interfered in election campaigns and referendums, mainly in Africa and Europe.

The company, which has no legal existence and is dubbed Team Jorge by journalists after the pseudonym of one of its directors, Tal Hanan, consists of former agents of the Israeli intelligence services, according to revelations by the collective of journalists on Wednesday (15). The group’s sponsors have not been identified.

With complete impunity and without moral principles, the secret Israeli company operates behind the scenes and offers its services to the highest bidder, reports RFI’s Jerusalem correspondent Sami Boukhelifa.

Team Jorge offers a veritable virtual army as a product with thousands of fake accounts on social networks. Thanks to powerful software, the group creates avatars with email, date of birth and even phone number. This allows websites to unsuspectingly search for fake profiles. Their mission is to publish opinions with the aim of influencing as many people as possible online.

Involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Team Jorge was previously implicated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a company accused in 2018 of analyzing big data to sell influencers used by Donald Trump.

The three journalists from Radio France and two Israeli media outlets who conducted the investigation posed as potential clients. “We have intervened in 33 presidential campaigns,” the Israeli underground told them. “Twothirds were in Africa and 27 were successful,” he said.

1 of 1 Rachid M’Barki has been removed from his role as presenter on BFMTV — Photo: AFP/Fadel Senna Rachid M’Barki has been removed from his role as presenter on BFMTV — Photo: AFP/Fadel Senna

In Europe, the company would have intervened in the Spanish government’s unrecognized referendum organized by Catalan separatists in 2017.

In Africa, “it could be confirmed that in the summer of 2022, as Kenya’s presidential election approached, Jorge took an interest in reports from people close to future President William Ruto,” including Dennis Itumbi and Davis Chirchir, members of his campaign team, according to the Forbidden Stories website.

Misinformation on BFM TV

Team Jorge also infiltrated French news channel BFM TV through one of its hosts: Rachid M’Barki. The group submitted materials through the moderator that were not validated by the editors. Sensitive topics, such as Russian oligarchs, Western Sahara, Qatar or Cameroon, were added at the last minute and managed to get through the editorial screen.

When BFM management questioned Rachid M’Barki on the matter, the moderator claimed he “used the editors’ free will” and mentioned an intermediary named JeanPierre Duthion. This is a communications consultant known as a “disinformation mercenary” who would have accepted orders made by other intermediaries without knowing the end customer. His job was to put the matter in the hands of journalists.

These documents, which relate to Russian oligarchs or Qatar, would have been “provided readytouse on behalf of foreign clients,” according to the investigative consortium. One of these notes, for example, on the difficulties facing the nautical industry in Monaco since international sanctions were imposed on Russia and its citizens, would have the aim of criticizing the sanctions policies of European countries.

Rachid M’Barki claims he was not paid to air the stories, but journalists from the investigative collective estimate that such a service could earn around €3,000 for each story aired.

The journalist, in turn, denies taking part in a disinformation campaign and says he was deceived. He was dropped by BFM TV when Forbidden Stories alerted the channel to the incident in January.