Facebook, Twitter Purge Fake News Accounts Linked To Iran, Russia

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Social media giants remove hundreds of accounts linked to propaganda campaigns from Iran and Russia

Social networking firms in the United States have removed hundreds of accounts they said where being used to spread fake news, thought to be linked to both Iran and Russia.

Facebook and Twitter collectively removed hundreds of accounts tied to an alleged Iranian propaganda operation on Tuesday. Facebook meanwhile said that it had taken down a second campaign (over 650 Facebook pages and groups) that it said was linked to Russia.

The action comes days after Microsoft said it had disrupted Russian cyber-attacks against US conservative think tanks.

Iran cyber - Shutterstock - © Duc Dao

Account takedowns

Earlier this week Twitter said that it had suspended 284 accounts with apparent links to Iran.

“Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation,” it said. “Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.”

This was followed by Facebook, which on Tuesday said it had discovered multiple accounts that displayed “inauthentic behaviour” linked to campaigns that originated in Iran and Russia.

“Today we removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram,” said Facebook. “Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russia.”

“These were distinct campaigns and we have not identified any link or coordination between them,” it said. “However, they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.”

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook said that following a tip from FireEye, the group had removed 652 Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behaviour that originated in Iran.

Iranian network

“FireEye has identified a suspected influence operation that appears to originate from Iran aimed at audiences in the US, UK, Latin America, and the Middle East,” blogged FireEye.

“This operation is leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and clusters of associated accounts across multiple social media platforms to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests,” said the security firm.

“These narratives include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes”, it said, as well as advocacy of policies favourable to Iran such as the US-Iran nuclear deal.

Earlier this year US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, who is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, slammed the ability of the United States to effectively combat Russia’s cyber threats, whilst he was speaking to a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

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