The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has shut down 92 websites being surreptitiously controlled by the Iranian government to spread false information and fake news.
The websites included four heavily trafficked sites that claimed to be legitimate and independent American news operations when in fact they were operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a body the US government designated a foreign terrorist organization in April last year.
Among the seized websites and domains were the popular online news services Newsstand7.com, USjournal.net, USjournal.us, and TWtoday.net all four of which were found to have been promoting pro-Iranian propaganda, generating fake news, and intentionally hiding ties to the Iranian regime.
“We will continue to use all of our tools to stop the Iranian government from misusing US companies and social media to spread propaganda covertly, to attempt to influence the American public secretly, and to sow discord,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
“Fake news organizations have become a new outlet for disinformation spread by authoritarian countries as they continue to try to undermine our democracy. Today’s actions show that we can use a variety of laws to vindicate the value of transparency,” he added.
FBI officials revealed that they had received cooperation from Google, Facebook, and Twitter in identifying the Iranian-run news websites and that the case was initially brought to the bureau’s attention by officials at Google.
“This investigation, initiated by intelligence we received from Google, was a collaborative effort between the FBI and social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John Bennett, who helped supervise the investigation.
When individuals visit the 92 websites and domains, they are now greeted by a single-page graphic that declares them shut down and seized under American laws.
DoJ officials said the four domains purporting to be independent news outlets were actually operated by or on behalf of the IRGC to target the US with pro-Iranian propaganda in an attempt to influence the American people to change US foreign and domestic policy toward Iran and the Middle East.
In addition, the remaining 88 domains targeted audiences in Western Europe, the Middle East, and South East Asia and masqueraded as genuine news outlets while actually being operated by the IRGC to spread pro-Iranian disinformation around the globe to the benefit of the government of Iran, they added.
The Iranian government and the IRGC utilized website and domain services in America without a license from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). All 92 domains are owned and operated by US companies, DoJ officials said.
“Today we are 92 domains closer to shutting down Iran’s worldwide disinformation campaign,” said US Attorney for the Northern District of California David L. Anderson.
“Iran cannot be allowed to hide behind fake news sites. If Iran wants to be heard using US facilities, it must reveal its true colors.”