In the world of cyberwarfare, hackers from multiple countries use a variety of means to gain access to data that can be used to further their cause. In the case of Iran, Facebook is a means to spread their propaganda, targeting thousands of people from around the world.
Facebook announced that they found Iran behind a disinformation operation that involves hundreds of accounts on Facebook and Instagram, with other efforts being launched on Twitter and YouTube. Fake Iranian accounts were used to buy ads and organize events. Facebook acknowledged that multiple accounts were deactivated as a result of these activities.
“We ban this kind of behavior because authenticity matters. People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He noted that many of these accounts were part of larger networks.
There was evidence that this operation had ties to Iran’s state media. Facebook is working with law enforcement as part of its investigation.
Regime uses social media to spread message of hate
For the Iranian regime, these campaigns are meant to discredit those that are standing up to the regime and calling for action and accountability for members of the regime involved in human rights abuses, including the 1988 massacre of PMOI/MEK supporters.
“Iran, for its position of weakness, is trying to shape political discourse abroad through the generation of fake news articles, fabricated and deceiving videos, inaccurate portrayals of events, and so on. It is deliberately attempting to mislead users. The sole purpose is to advance the Iranian regime’s own interests,” said a statement released by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
The Iranian resistance is a frequent target of misinformation efforts by the regime. While the mullahs claim that the PMOI/MEK have limited support in Iran, the amount of resources put toward discrediting the resistance would argue otherwise.
Social network indicates investigation not complete
While Facebook and other social media sites have deactivated multiple accounts, there are indications that the investigations are not over and that more accounts may be subject to deactivation.
“There is a lot we don’t know yet. You’re going to see people try to abuse the services in every way possible…including now nation states,” said Zuckerberg. He noted that the campaigns that were uncovered were well funded and sophisticated. Information from the cybersecurity firm that alerted Facebook noted that the efforts extend beyond the U.S. and its politics.
The company also informed the U.S. and UK governments, as well as the U.S. Treasury and State Departments, in light of the renewal of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Sanctions are being renewed and new ones put in place after the Trump administration pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in early May.
Facebook also announced that these actions were the results of four investigations, one involving Russia and three involving Iran.