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17 Okt 2023

Liv Martin, Clothilde Goujard & Hailey Fuchs, POLITICO

Report exposes Israeli support ads campaign with graphic content on X & YouTube

"Israel floods social media to shape opinion around the war", 17 October 2023

Since Hamas attacked thousands of its citizens last week, the Israeli government has started a sweeping social media campaign in key Western countries to drum up support for its military response against the group. Part of its strategy: pushing dozens of ads containing brutal and emotional imagery of the deadly militant violence in Israel across platforms such as X and YouTube...

Israel’s attempt to win the online information war is part of a growing trend of governments around the world moving aggressively online in order to shape their image, especially during times of crisis.

The Israeli government’s efforts come as Hamas has pumped out its own propaganda on platforms including Telegram and X.

The social media campaigns began shortly after Hamas militants killed more than 1,200 and abducted nearly 200 people in a surprise assault. Israel’s military responded with retaliatory strikes and a siege of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 2,330 Palestinians to date. 

More than 2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza have been subjected to worsening conditions ahead of an expected upcoming offensive, and Western leaders are increasingly calling on the Israeli government to exercise restraint and respect humanitarian law. 

A barrage of ads

In a little over a week, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has run 30 ads that have been seen over 4 million times on X, according to the platform’s data. The paid videos and photos that started appearing on October 12 were aimed at adults over 25 in Brussels, Paris, Munich and The Hague, according to the same data. 

The ads portrayed Hamas as a “vicious terrorist group,” similar to the Islamic State, and showed the scale and types of the abuse... 

Over on YouTube, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry has released over 75 different ads, including some that are particularly graphic. They have been directed at viewers in Western countries — including France, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. — and have aired between the initial Hamas attack on October 7 and Monday, according to Google’s transparency database. 

“We would never post such graphic things before,” said a spokesperson for Israel’s Mission to the EU...

Israel has largely targeted Europe with its narrative to win over support. Nearly 50 video ads in English were directed to EU countries, while viewers in the U.S. and the U.K. were pushed 10 and 13 ads, respectively. One of the videos had been seen over 3 million times...

Platforms’ ongoing content challenge

The ad campaign has posed some challenges to social media companies, which have set standards for what type of content can be posted on their streams.

Google, for example, removed about 30 ads containing violent images from its public library after POLITICO reached out for a comment... The company said it didn’t allow ads containing violent language, gruesome or disgusting imagery, or graphic images or accounts of physical trauma. (Some of the graphic videos are still available on the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry’s YouTube channel with some warnings.)

X did not respond to a request for comment.

No similar ads were running on Meta’s Instagram and Facebook, LinkedIn and TikTok, according to the platforms’ public ad libraries... 

As Israel amps up its war online, its army’s retaliatory airstrikes have damaged Gaza’s telecommunications infrastructure, leaving millions on the verge of a total network blackout. 

“It is difficult to imagine a robust counter-messaging effort by pro-Palestinian groups which could make use of the same advertising medium,” Brooking said. “It’s one part of the social media battlefield in which Israel has a real advantage.”