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24 Nov 2023

Francesca Visser, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Palestine/Israel: Viral campaign ads attacking pro-Palestine movement points to concerning gaps in Meta rules; incl. co. comment

"Viral campaign attacking pro-Palestine movement points to gaps in Meta rules"

A multimillion-dollar campaign attacking the pro-Palestine movement has spent more than $370,000 in the past month on viral adverts for Facebook and Instagram without disclosing where its money comes from.

The campaign, run by an organisation called Facts for Peace, has published videos that appear to conflate support for Palestine with backing for Hamas, a designated terrorist group. Its content has already amassed more than 21m views.

The adverts highlight how current social media rules mean new campaigns can quickly reach millions of people while remaining opaque about their own funding. Neither Facts for Peace’s listing on Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, nor its own website makes any mention of who is behind the campaign.

Meta requires advertisers to complete an authorisation process and adverts about social issues or politics to include a “paid for by” disclaimer.

A separate Meta policy on inauthentic behaviour says you should not “conceal a Page’s purpose by misleading users about the ownership or control of that page”.

Meta told TBIJ that the campaign does not violate either of these policies.

Sam Jeffers of the digital transparency group Who Targets Me says his organisation “has long had concerns about the way the big platforms allow new advertisers to run large volumes of ads on sensitive political issues despite the pages concerned having no previous track record”.

“The platforms should require a lot more transparency from their advertisers and, in doing so, make things much easier for their users.”

The US-based news site Semafor reported earlier this month that the campaign was launched by American real-estate investor Barry Sternlicht to foster support for Israel in the days following the attacks by Hamas on 7 October...

Meta told TBIJ that the adverts are “clearly labeled with a ‘paid by’ disclaimer and placed in our Ads Library so that everyone can see […] who paid for them”. It said its Ads Library “provides more transparency into social issues, political and electoral advertising than TV, radio or any other digital ad platform”...

Of the 213 ads Facts for Peace has published on Meta so far, three appear to have been taken down for violating Meta’s advertising standards. It is unclear which policy was infringed...

Some of the content published by the campaign appears to conflate support for Palestine with the endorsement of various violent and repressive views.

In one video, a young man approaches pedestrians in New York City asking them to sign “a quick petition to help Hamas free Palestine”. He goes on to read a list of “terms and conditions”, which include “You agree that every Jew, Christian, and non-Muslim in the world must be slaughtered”, “You believe Iran should use Palestinians as puppets to spread radical jihad and destroy the west” and “You want a terrorist group that beheads babies and rapes girls to replace only democracy in the Middle East”...

The video has gone viral across social media in recent weeks after being promoted by various prominent figures including the American political commentator Ben Shapiro, the far-right news website Breitbart and the embassy of Israel in Chile...

Facts for Peace, Barry Sternlicht and Josh Vlasto did not respond to requests for comment.