Facebook says it dismantles disinformation network tied to Iran’s state media

In a monthly report of accounts suspended for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Facebook said it had removed eight networks in recent weeks. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 May 2020

Facebook says it dismantles disinformation network tied to Iran’s state media

  • The company also removed a US network of fake accounts linked to QAnon, a fringe group that claims Democrats are behind international crime rings
  • The networks also pushed content focused on the upcoming US presidential election

LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO: Iran’s state broadcaster has used hundreds of fake social media accounts to covertly spread pro-Iranian messaging online since at least 2011, targeting voters in countries including Britain and the United States, Facebook said on Tuesday.
In a monthly report of accounts suspended for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Facebook said it had removed eight networks in recent weeks, including one with links to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation (IRIB).
The company also removed a US network of fake accounts linked to QAnon, a fringe group that claims Democrats are behind international crime rings, and a separate US-based campaign with ties to white supremacist websites VDARE and the Unz Review.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said both US networks recently began pushing coronavirus-related disinformation, taking advantage of a surge in online interest in the pandemic to promote anti-Semitic and anti-Asian hate speech tied to it.
“We’ve seen people behind these campaigns opportunistically leverage coronavirus-related topics to build an audience and drive people to their pages or off-platform sites,” he said.
The networks also pushed content focused on the upcoming US presidential election, the report said.
Gleicher said the IRIB network had “substantial connections” to previously identified Iranian disinformation campaigns, but it was too early say whether it was directly responsible for those operations.
The state-owned IRIB, which has its head appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian officials have previously dismissed allegations of running coordinated disinformation campaigns as “ridiculous.”
The Islamic Republic has emerged as one of the most persistent players in online influence operations, as Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google have had to grapple with state-backed groups using social media to further their geopolitical agendas and spread disinformation.
A Reuters investigation in 2018 found that one Tehran-based operation had used more than 70 websites masquerading as local news outlets to covertly disseminate Iranian state propaganda in more than 15 countries, at one point tricking the then Pakistani defense minister into issuing a nuclear threat against Israel.
Iranian officials in Tehran and London did not reply to questions about the operation at the time.
Gleicher said the newly identified network had used similar tactics, including posing as independent media websites and charitable organizations, to target countries from Algeria and Bangladesh to the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.
The network used more than 500 accounts on Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, to spread messages that often focused on local conflicts or criticism of US actions in the region, he said. “In general, these were narratives that are aligned with Iranian geopolitical interests.”
Researchers at social media analytics firm Graphika, who reviewed the IRIB-linked accounts before they were suspended by Facebook, said some of the earliest-identified activity dated back to 2012 and targeted the US Republican party primaries.
Two years later, other accounts in the network used a handful of fake personas, memes and cartoons to support Scotland’s referendum bid to break away from the United Kingdom, they said.
Graphika’s head of investigations, Ben Nimmo, said those attempts were short-lived but show that Iran was experimenting with online election meddling years before alleged Russian attempts to sway the 2016 US presidential vote. Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations.
“The Iranian experiment was relatively tiny and didn’t last long or have any noticeable impact. What’s interesting is how early they started,” he said.
“This whole takedown underlines how persistent the Iranian state is when it comes to covert influence operations.”


Facebook donates $2.1 million to support Lebanon

Updated 12 August 2020

Facebook donates $2.1 million to support Lebanon

  • Managing Director Facebook MENA Ramez Shehadi: We are donating more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs
  • Ramez Shehadi: We’re working with hospitals and local partners to launch local access to our blood donation tool — allowing donors to find nearby blood donation centers in need of support

DUBAI: Facebook is giving millions to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs in Lebanon to support relief and recovery efforts in Beirut following the devastating blast there.

“In support of the vital work that organizations and individuals are doing on the ground in Beirut, we are donating more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by our community as part of a Facebook fundraiser,” said Ramez Shehadi, managing director, Facebook Middle East and North Africa.

“Moreover, we’re working with hospitals and local partners to launch local access to our blood donation tool — which allows blood donors to find nearby blood donation centers in need of support — and supporting local newsrooms impacted. We will continue to work with different organizations that are making a real difference at this critical time,” Shehadi said.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, said in a post: “Facebook is doing what we can to help those struggling in the aftermath. Our safety check tool was activated soon after the explosion, with tens of thousands of people using it to let their friends and loved ones know they were OK. Hundreds of thousands of people visited our crisis page to get accurate information and request help, and we have seen our community come together to search for the missing and offer places to sleep to those who have lost homes. And we are launching our blood donation tool in Lebanon in partnership with local hospitals and others to point local blood donors to nearby blood donation centers.”

Additionally, the Facebook Community activated the safety check feature; and the crisis page is a resource for all those looking for help and support, from searching for missing loves ones to providing services such as blood donations.