LOS ANGELES: Facebook and Twitter have taken down hundreds of fake accounts and pages linked to Iran and Russia after finding a series of campaigns aimed at meddling in UK and US politics.
The Iranian accounts targeted internet users in Britain and America and were followed by more than million users. They bought thousands of dollars worth of adverts in what researchers said was an attempt to spread pro-Iranian messages.
Facebook revealed on Tuesday night that it had suspended 652 pages, groups and accounts across Facebook and Instagram that were linked to “Iranian state media”, after finding evidence of “co-ordinated inauthentic behavior” across the accounts.
Separately, Twitter said it had suspended 284 accounts that it believed to originate in Iran.
Facebook, which has fought a lengthy battle with state-sponsored attempts to meddle in Western elections, also said it had removed several accounts linked to the Russian military.
The company said it had briefed both the British and American governments.
Facebook said it uncovered three separate networks of accounts centered around an organization called “Liberty Front Press”, which is linked to Iranian state media through records on website registration.
Combined, the 652 accounts had 1.04 million followers and dated back as far as 2011. They had bought $12,000 (£9,300) of adverts but masked their origin by paying in US dollars, Australian dollars, Turkish lira and Indian rupees.
Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 22, 2018
The pages and accounts often shared material about politics in the Middle East but increasingly focused on the UK and US in recent years.
Both Facebook and Twitter were tipped off by FireEye, a cybersecurity company. FireEye said the networks had been used to “promote Iranian political interests, including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as to promote support for specific US policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal”.
It added: “In the context of the US-focused activity, this also includes significant anti-Trump messaging.”
It comes just weeks after Facebook removed 32 pages after uncovering a campaign to influence social media users ahead of US mid-term elections later this year.
While Facebook’s efforts to combat foreign political meddling have largely focused on Russia, the Iranian campaign suggested its problems were much wider, FireEye said.
“These operations extend well beyond those conducted by Russia, which has often been the focus of research into information operations over recent years,” the cybersecurity company said.
“Our investigation also illustrates how the threat posed by such influence operations continues to evolve, and how similar influence tactics can be deployed irrespective of the particular political or ideological goals being pursued.”
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