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Facebook deletes hundreds of ‘inauthentic’ pages linked to Iran

On April 7, 2010, Public Services Librarian Donna Mazziotti presented a workshop on "Sharing with Surety: Facebook Privacy Settings for the Casual Facebook User" at University of Scranton as part of the Library/CTLE Technology on Your Own Terms series. (University of Scranton Weinberg Memorial Library/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Facebook says it has removed almost 800 “coordinated, inauthentic” pages, groups, and accounts directed from Iran that were part of a manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries.

The world’s biggest social network said on January 31 that it coordinated closely with Twitter to discover the accounts, which exhibited “malicious-looking indicators.”

The pages, 783 in total, were part of a campaign to promote Iranian interests abroad by creating fake identities as residents of the countries in question, Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said in a statement.

“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Gleicher said.

“We’re taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” he added.

Facebook has been publishing results of such account purges in recent months, including ones linked to groups in Burma, Bangladesh and Russia.

Its threat intelligence team has also stepped up activities to demonstrate its commitment to preventing interference in events such as elections after Russia reportedly used Facebook and other social media sites to create turmoil in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.

In the operation, about 2 million accounts followed at least one of the pages taken down, Facebook said, while about 1,600 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and more than 254,000 accounts followed at least one of the Instagram accounts involved.

The operators of the deleted accounts referred to in the January 31 announcement “typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events,” including “commentary that repurposed Iranian state media’s reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen,” Gleicher said.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review linked these accounts to Iran,” he added.

Facebook said the fake accounts were part of an influence campaign that operated in Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United States, and Yemen.