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Cyber Attacks on the Elections: Hackathon – The Big Bots Project

Confronting Political Bots: Empowering Citizens to Self-Defend Democracy

The forthcoming elections in Israel, on April 9, 2019, found election officials and the general public unprepared for online manipulation and disinformation. Digital tools, such as bots, faked accounts, deep fake and fake news (“bots), are deployed to create a false sense of legitimacy, to manipulate users in ways which are unfamiliar to them, and to stir political strife. Bots may skew democratic discourse, and may destabilize the legitimacy of the political process as a whole.

Reform initiatives to regulate the use of political bots (i.e., requiring campaigns to identify the speakers and to clearly indicate when they are not human), have only reached preliminary legislative stages. In a recent decree, the Chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, has extended existing elections propaganda law, which prohibits anonymous political publications, to content posted online.  

In an urgent letter to the Central Elections Committee, the Law, Technology and Cyber Clinic together with other NGOs, urged the chairman to coordinate the efforts against cyber attacks and disinformation online in the coming elections. The request was supported by leading academic experts from Haifa University, including Prof. Orr Dunkelman (CS), Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren and Dr. Dalit Ken Dror Feldman (Law), Prof. Eli Biham from the Technion, and others.

The University of Haifa took leadership in addressing online disinformation and faked profiles, in a recent Hekaton, a joint venture of the Cyber Center for Law and Policy (CCLP), in collaboration with the Caesarea Rothschild Institute for Interdisciplinary Applications of Computer Science together with Noam Rotem and Yuval Adam. The project, which has already received the support of the Israeli Internet Association, Checkpoint, Yad Hanadiv, Haifa Municipality, and many others, aimed at developing tools for identifying bots, and make them available as Open Source, to be shared with other academics and civil society groups addressing similar challenges, locally and globally.

More on the project see here: