Facebook and other social media outlets, including Twitter and Instagram, have deactivated hundreds of accounts, according to reports released last week. Facebook, during a press meeting, noted that an investigation had shown that many of these accounts were part of networks aimed at spreading false information. Ads were bought on Facebook using fake Iranian accounts and these accounts were also used to organize events.
The disinformation seems to target people in multiple countries and various regions, including the Middle East, Latin America, Britain, and the United States. The Iranian effort appears to have dated from 2011 and is tied to the state-media operations in that country.
Deleting accounts originating in Iran and Russia
The investigation uncovered accounts related to Russia, which appeared to be focused on spreading disinformation in the United States. Iran’s efforts appeared to have a much broader audience, spread across multiple countries and regions. However, Facebook indicated that the efforts of these networks appears to have accelerated since 2016.
“Our adversaries are sophisticated and well-funded, but the shift we have made from reactive to proactive detection is a big change and is going to make Facebook safer over time,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Twitter removed almost 300 accounts that appeared to be part of a coordinated manipulation effort, with the accounts appearing to originate in Iran.
“It’s significant in that it shows it’s not just Russia that’s engaged in this activity,” said Lee Foster, FireEye manager of information operations analysis. “This demonstrates that there are other actors out there who appear to see value in engaging in such activity to shape political discourse.”
Disinformation is a global effort
A recent report from the Oxford Internet Institute noted that active organized disinformation campaigns were taking place in 48 countries, up from 28 in 2017. These campaigns are using social media to spread their messages.
“I’ve been saying for months that there’s no way the problem of social media manipulation is limited to a single troll farm in St. Petersburg, and that fact is now beyond a doubt,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.
A tip in July from a cybersecurity firm, FireEye, and internal investigations led to the accounts being deactivated. It is clear, however, that continued investigations are likely to address other potential disinformation networks.
“These were distinct campaigns and we have not identified any link or coordination between them,” said Facebook in a blog post. “However, they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.”
Facebook also acknowledged that it worked with law enforcement officials in both the U.S. and Britain, as well as briefing the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. State Department. The U.S. currently has multiple sanctions in place for Iran, its institutions, and individuals associated with the regime.
Members of the U.S. Congress are calling for greater action from the Trump administration to address cybersecurity as threats from other nations continue to grow.
Iranian resistance notes disinformation common Iranian tactic
For the Iranian resistance (MEK/PMOI), disinformation campaigns originating in Iran are nothing new. The regime frequently targets the resistance and its supporters in hopes of reducing their influence with the Iranian people.
However, with new sanctions in place and others being renewed, the Iranian people are protesting due to economic and social conditions. Calls for regime change are also part of these protests and demonstrations. The enormous amount of energy and resources being used to undermine the resistance throughout the international community seems to indicate that the regime fears the resistance more than ever.
As social media begins to proactively address these disinformation campaigns, it is likely that Iran will continue to use them in an effort to discredit those who hold them to account for their human rights violations and other abuses.