According to an undercover media investigation, an Israeli company attempted to sway more than 30 elections around the world, including in African countries, by hacking, sabotaging, and disseminating false information.
This recent development adds to a growing body of evidence that unethical private companies are making money using intrusive hacking tools and the capacity of social media platforms to sway public opinion all around the world.
Investigative journalists who pretended to be clients in order to learn more about the company's practices and capabilities dubbed the business "Team Jorge." Its leader, Tal Hanan, is a former Israeli special forces agent who boasted of being able to manage thousands of fictitious social media personas as well as oversee supposedly secure Telegram accounts.
The investigation was supervised by a France-based non-profit, Forbidden Tales, and a group of journalists from 30 publications, including the Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany, and El Pais in Spain.
According to the Guardian, "The approaches and techniques disclosed by Team Jorge create new concerns for giant tech companies." Proof of a private worldwide market for disinformation aimed at elections would likewise raise red flags for democracies all around the world, according to the report.
In response to specific inquiries, Hanan only said, "I deny any wrongdoing." The 50-year-old told three undercover reporters that intelligence services, political campaigns, and private businesses may use his services, which are sometimes referred to as "black ops" in the business.
Hanan stated that "Now, we are taking part in an African election. We have teams in both Greece and the United Arab Emirates. 33 presidential campaigns have been completed, 27 of which were successful.
He stated that two-thirds of the campaigns took place in Africa. Days before Kenya's presidential election, he appeared to hack into political operatives' Gmail accounts and Telegram accounts while showing reporters his equipment.
The targets were identified by Forbidden Tales as two of William Ruto's assistants, who ultimately won the August 2022 election. The reports claim that a software platform called Advanced Impact Media Solutions was used to carry out online public influence campaigns. This platform allegedly had control over close to 40,000 social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Hanan additionally asserted that his company had a study regarding the effects of sanctions against Russia on the yachting business in Monaco that was spied on by France's top television news network, BFM.
In recent years, Western countries have sanctioned other firms for their participation in attempting to influence elections. The infamous British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which is now defunct, is thought to have been used to create voting software that favored Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.
The group amassed and misused the 87 million Facebook users whose personal information it had access to, which resulted in significant penalties and legal action
.In addition, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian mercenary organization Wagner, acknowledged constructing a spyware, which is also thought to have interfered with elections in the West.
The pressure on Israel to control its cutting-edge cyberspace and technology sector, which was the subject of a subsequent media investigation by Forbidden Stories in 2021, may grow in the wake of the most recent discoveries.
It highlighted how the potent Pegasus spyware, produced in Israel, had been sold to governments by the cyber espionage firm NSO Group Technologies and used against at least 50,000 people globally. Human rights advocates, religious figures, and politicians like Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, were among the suspected targets.
A number of African countries, including Nigeria and Zimbabwe, will soon hold their presidential elections, and they need to put in place measures to fight against this growing threat to democracy.