Fake social media accounts spread pro-Iran, anti-Trump messages during 2018 election

The fake accounts targeted Donald trump campaigning for the 2018 congressional elections. (AFP/File photo))
Updated 28 May 2019
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Fake social media accounts spread pro-Iran, anti-Trump messages during 2018 election

  • The operation focused on promoting “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes”

LONDON: A network of fake social media accounts impersonated political candidates and journalists to spread messages in support of Iran and against US President Donald Trump around the 2018 congressional elections, cybersecurity firm FireEye said on Tuesday.
The findings show how unidentified, possibly government-backed, groups could manipulate social media platforms to promote stories and other content that can influence the opinions of American voters, the researchers said.
This particular operation was largely focused on promoting “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes,” according to the report by FireEye.
The campaign was organized through a series of fake personas that created various social media accounts, including on Twitter and Facebook. Most of these accounts were created last year and have since been taken down, the report said.
Spokespersons for Twitter and Facebook confirmed FireEye’s finding that the fake accounts were created on their platforms.
Lee Foster, a researcher with FireEye, said he found some of the fake personas — often masquerading as American journalists — had successfully convinced several US news outlets to publish letters to the editor, guest columns and blog posts.
These writings displayed both progressive and conservative views, the report said, covering topics including the Trump administration’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
“We’re assessing with low confidence that this network was organized to support Iranian political interests,” said Foster. “However, we’re not at the point where we can say who was doing it or where it’s coming from. The investigation is ongoing.”
Twitter said in a statement that it had “removed this network of 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran at the beginning of May,” adding that its investigation was ongoing.
Before the 2018 midterms election, the nameless group created Twitter accounts that impersonated both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. It is unclear if the fake accounts had any effect on their campaigns.
The imposter Twitter accounts often plagiarized messages from the politicians’ legitimate accounts, but also mixed in posts voicing support for policies believe to be favorable to Tehran. Affected politicians included Jineea Butler, a republican candidate for New York’s 13th District, and Marla Livengood, a republican candidate for California’s 9th District. Both Livengood and Butler lost in the general election.
Livengood and Butler could not be immediately reached for comment.
Facebook said it had removed 51 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, seven Groups and three Instagram accounts, connected to the influence operation. Instagram is owned by Facebook.
The activity on Facebook was less expansive and it appeared to be more narrowly focused, said Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher. The inauthentic Facebook accounts instead often privately messaged high profile figures, including journalists, policy makers and Iranian dissidents, to promote certain issues.
Facebook similarly concluded the activity had originated in Iran, although it’s not clear whether the operation was backed by the Iranian government.
Foster said the research demonstrates how groups will use a variety of different techniques and methods to push an agenda online.


Taliban threaten Afghan media, say reporters to be targeted

Updated 24 June 2019
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Taliban threaten Afghan media, say reporters to be targeted

  • Taliban urged Afghan media to cease transmitting anti-Taliban announcements paid for by the government
  • If they refuse to do this will be considered enemy intelligence nests and their journalists and other staffers will not be safe

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban have issued a threat to Afghan media, saying journalists will be targeted unless news outlets stop broadcasting what they describe as government propaganda against the insurgents.
Monday’s statement gives Afghan radio stations, TV channels and others a week to cease transmitting anti-Taliban announcements paid for by the government.
The Taliban say that Afghan media that refuse to do this will be considered enemy intelligence nests and their journalists and other staffers will not be safe.
The government in Kabul pays media outlets to regularly air please to the public to inform authorities if they see any suspicious Taliban activities.
The Taliban have targeted Afghan media, radio and TV stations in the past but this is the insurgents’ first threat over a specific issue such as the government-paid announcements.