Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Facebook and Twitter say Iran propaganda pages deleted

Facebook said the sites claimed to be independent but were connected to the Iranian regime

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the Iranian accounts were misleading (AP)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the Iranian accounts were misleading (AP)

Facebook and Twitter have removed hundreds of Iran-linked accounts and pages that lead targeted disinformation campaigns that promoted Iranian propaganda and sought to “shape political discourse.”

Facebook said the coordinated campaigns, which appeared to have been directed from inside Iran, involved 652 pages, groups and accounts that drew in over one million followers. Some of these accounts were also accused of engaging in failed hacking attempts. Many of the pages and fake users discovered were linked to a group known as Liberty Front Press, a news site publishing pro-Tehran stories.

Less than an hour later on Tuesday evening, Twitter also said it had suspended 284 accounts, most that originated from Iran, for engaging in “coordinated manipulation.”

Facebook also found a number of pages connected to Russia days after Microsoft said it had taken control of websites Russian intelligence services could have used to hack US politicians. There is no suggestion the Russian or Iranian blocked pages colluded with each other nor that they interfered with 2018 US midterm elections.

Facebook was initially tipped off by FireEye Intelligence and said “bad actors” were behind the Iranian operations. FireEye said it had discovered registrant emails for suspect sites that were related to Tehran-based web developers. Similarly, it found social media pages linked to Iranian phone numbers that promoted views in line with Iran’s foreign policy.

These included mocking Donald Trump, posts supporting Palestine and anti-Saudi Arabia rhetoric. Another showed support for Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Labour leader who has regularly appeared on Iranian state tv and associated with senior Hamas figures.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the accounts were "misleading."

“We are able to link this network to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook Pages sharing the same admins,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy.

“For example, one part of the network, “Quest 4 Truth,” claims to be an independent Iranian media organization, but is in fact linked to Press TV, an English-language news network affiliated with Iranian state media,” he added.

Some of the accounts dated as far back as 2011 and had accrued $12,000 in advertising revenue. Investigations are ongoing between Facebook and US authorities. As Iran is under recently renewed American sanctions over its nuclear capabilities, the US treasury has since been notified over the fresh developments. Facebook insisted it took steps to prevent people in Iran and other sanctioned companies from using advertising tools.


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"There's a lot we don't know yet," said Mr Zuckerberg. “You're going to see people try to abuse the services in every way possible ... including now nation states.” Mr Zuckerberg described the campaigns as "sophisticated and well-funded efforts that aren't going to stop."

“These represented themselves as independent entities, but we were able to see through our investigation that they were all linked together,” said Mr Gleicher said.

“What we’re see here is a coordinated network, but the assets themselves were not presenting a coordinated front in terms of how they identified themselves,” he added.

Updated: August 22, 2018 06:31 PM