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Iranian Digital Networks That Intervene in Arab Countries Revealed by Oxford Study

By INU Staff

INU- According to a study entitled, titled “Iranian Digital Interference in the Arab World,” that was published by Oxford University, Iran uses a network of websites, which are registered with "false" data, to spread its digital propaganda in the Arab world. The network’s primary target is Saudi Arabia. The study was prepared by three researchers from the Project on Computational Propaganda (COMPROP) based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

In October, Twitter made tweets from 770 accounts “potentially originating in Iran” publicly available. The study analyzed the content of more than 154,000 Arabic tweets from those accounts. What they found was an Iranian-based “systematic disinformation campaign.” The tweets pushed an Iranian political narrative, including criticism of Saudi Arabia and support of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.”

Noting that interference has become more conspicuous since the Arab Spring of 2011, the study said, “While Iran has constantly interfered in Arab politics, either militarily or by supporting non-state actors, digital interference operations appear to be a recent strategy adopted by Iran to exert influence in the Arab world.”

The suspended accounts promoted content of Iranian-based websites and were registered using fake names and false information. The study explained that they were meant to give the impression that they were run from different Arab countries. The majority of the tweets published by the Iran-linked accounts were written in French, English, and Arabic, with only 8 percent written in Iran’s official language, Farsi.

The oldest account was created in April 2009, and the newest was created in August 2018. Researchers found that around 40 percent were created in 2017. Creation dates peak between May 2017 and January 2018. These dates appear to correspond to the Iranian presidential elections that took place in May 2017, and with the Iranian protests in January 2018.

“This seems to indicate that the accounts were initially created to support the Iranian state,” the study has concluded.

The Iranian accounts promoted more than 23,000 hashtags associated with Arabic-language tweets. The study showed that the most frequently used hashtags reflect issues of Iranian interest. As well, among the most frequently used hashtags in its data set, five referred to countries in which Iran has a political interest, namely Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

One of the main tools used by the Iranian accounts to interfere in the Arab world, was impersonating news outlets.

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