Iran has been a particular problem with regards to the spreading of fake news and Twitter announced earlier this week that more than two thousand accounts on its platform have been suspended for malicious activity tied to Iran.
Twitter and Facebooked worked together to identify the suspicious accounts. The cybersecurity expert at Facebook, Nathaniel Gleicher, said that it was Twitter’s investigation into fake Iran-linked accounts that alerted Facebook to similar activity.
Both social media giants said that they are going to continue working together in the future to combat such activity.
Facebook said that the misinformation campaigns from Iran targeted social media users in South Asia and across the Middle East. It further stated that the malign accounts specifically targeted public debates.
Facebook could not elaborate about the specific intentions of those spreading fake news, but a study carried out by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab determined that the accounts “promoted or amplified views in line with Iranian government’s international stances”. It said: “The pages posted content with strong bias for the government in Tehran and against the ‘West’ and regional neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
Last year, Facebook removed more than 650 groups, accounts and pages with links to Iran. Facebook said that the identities of the users were clearly fake and they were obviously taking part in some sort of Iranian influence campaign.
Iran is no stranger to such tactics to influence the public. For decades it has employed such methods to discredit its opposition. A particular target has been the main opposition to the Iranian regime, the only viable alternative, the PMOI / MEK (the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran). The PMOI / MEK has been accused of being a terrorist organisation and foreign countries listened to these false claims.
Its strategies have clearly modernised with time. Thankfully, for the international community, the social media companies are taking the misuse of their platforms very seriously. Already, the quality of reporting in the international press with regards to what is happening in Iran is mostly underreported and often does not reflect reality, so curbing the online misinformation campaigns is crucial.
With the U.S. election and social media controversy, it is clear to see how powerful, and thus damaging, social media can be. It is the responsibility of these giants to ensure that this situation does not arise again.
Activity like this is something that creates divisions in society, fuels ongoing disagreements and spreads chaos in fragile areas. The Iranian regime’s involvement with disinformation campaigns is an indication of its weakness and desperation. It is hanging on by a thread and it will go to any means possible to prolong its survival.