The network that was recently uncovered, which spread fake news and pro-Iranian Regime propaganda around the world in 11 languages, is just a fraction of the Iranian cyber-army directed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Bassij paramilitary force.
Their main disinformation site Ghasam.ir, along with over 2,500 other sites, is controlled by an IRGC division stationed in Tehran and they are responsible for creating “currents” (fake news/propaganda) on international, cultural and economic issues.
The IRGC and Bassij have cyber-army units all across Iran and embedded in all government and state entities, most notably the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which allows the IRGC cyber-army to expand its activities around the globe; something that even Iranian officials admit is the overall goal of the Iranian cyber army.
The IRGC’s cyber attacks do not stop at sharing disinformation on social media; rather they target banks, scientific centres, and economic and industrial facilities in many countries that Iran considers to be enemies, including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
It’s important to note that this is no a new development and the US have actually sanctioned people connected to the network for their crimes.
However, the Iranian Regime has a double standard when it comes to internet usage, as it does with most things. While they consider it acceptable for the mullahs and their security forces to use the internet to promote the Regime, criticise the West, and slander dissidents, they don’t believe that the Iranian people should enjoy access to a free internet.
The Iranian people’s access to the internet is seen as a threat to the continued existence of the Regime – not least because of how effective it has been during the recent uprising – so the mullahs impose strict bans on a free and fair internet.
Human rights activist Heshmat Alavi wrote: “Tehran’s clerics understand very well that with the free flow of information the entire crackdown apparatus imposed on the Iranian people will begin to fissure.
As a result, the regime’s ideological pillars will weaken and Iranians across the country will gain knowledge of this regime’s corruption and economic bankruptcy. This literally represents an existential threat to the mullahs’ regime.”
He cites that the 2009 and 2017/18 uprisings showed how the protesters used social media networks (i.e. Twitter, Telegram and Instagram) to communicate and organise, so the Regime blocked/limited the Iranian people’s internet access. Still, the Iranian people are finding a way to subvert the blocks, using VPNs to mask their location.
However, the international community could do more to support the Iranian people, by sanctioning the IRIB and providing free and unhindered internet access to Iran.