Facebook announced Tuesday it has removed more than 50 profiles and pages originating from Iran for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — the second time the company has taken down an Iran-linked network of fake accounts in just seven months.
The people behind this scheme falsely represented themselves as U.S.- or Europe-based journalists or “other personas” and tried to contact reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents, policymakers and other public figures, the social network said in a blog post.
The company provided few details and did not say whether the individuals were connected to the Iranian government. But a new report by FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm that tipped off Facebook about the fake accounts, said the people behind this activity tried to leverage American and Israeli media in support of Iranian interests, going as far as impersonating on Twitter several Republican candidates who ran in the 2018 midterm elections.
The network promoted anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian narratives, among other themes, according to the report. The firm said the accounts often expressed support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump abandoned last year, and opposition to his recent decision to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
Most of the accounts were created between April 2018 and March 2019 and used profile pictures taken from the internet, the report said. Some of them identified themselves as activists, correspondents or journalists, according to the firm.
Facebook’s announcement and the FireEye report suggest malicious actors continue to use social media to try to influence public opinion and political narratives. That’s exactly what Special Counsel Robert Mueller said the Russian government did in 2016 to boost Trump’s candidacy.
The previous takedown of Iran-linked fake accounts came in October — two weeks before the election — when Facebook suspended 82 such pages and groups that were sharing divisive political messages.
The social network said the latest takedown included 51 Facebook profiles, 36 pages, seven groups and three Instagram accounts. Their posts were typically in English or Arabic, the company said.
In an apparent attempt to remain neutral, Facebook said in its blog post that it removed the accounts “based on their behavior, not the content they posted.”
“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,” Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in the post.
Gleicher also said Facebook is “investing heavily” on stronger technology and hiring more people to root out inauthentic behavior on its platforms.
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