Facebook removes over 500 accounts tied to ‘inauthentic behaviour’ from Iran

The social media platform also removed content from Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 15, 2019 The logo of social network Facebook is displayed on a smartphone, in Nantes, western France. Facebook said January 31, 2019 it took down hundreds of accounts from Iran that were part of a vast manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries. The world's biggest social network said it removed 783 pages, groups and accounts "for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran."
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Facebook said on Tuesday that it has removed more than 500 accounts suspected of “inauthentic behaviour” linked to Iran.

The Iranian accounts operated in Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kashmir and more broadly across the Middle East and North Africa, the platform said in a press release.

The 513 accounts consisted of 158 pages, 263 Facebook accounts, 35 groups and 57 Instagram accounts. Around 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of these pages, it said, as well as 108,000 accounts who were members of the groups and 38,000 accounts that followed the Instagram accounts. The accounts in total spent around $15,000 on advertising.

The administrators of the accounts portrayed themselves as either locals or fake media organisations. They impersonated real political groups and media organisations, Facebook said.

“They posted news stories on current events and frequently repurposed and amplified content from Iranian state media about topics including sanctions against Iran; tensions between India and Pakistan; conflicts in Syria and Yemen; terrorism; tensions between Israel and Palestine; Islamic religious issues; Indian politics; and the recent crisis in Venezuela,” the release said.

It said the accounts were removed for their behaviour, not the content that they posted on to the platform.

The social media platform also removed thousands more pages linked to Russia, Macedonia and Kosovo. Most of the accounts were linked to Russia and some of them posted content relating to Ukrainian news and politics, including the conflict in eastern Ukraine and other issues about the country. Many of them, however, just posted spam.

The total number of accounts removed was 2,632, it said.

The company used open source reporting to trace the accounts to their owners and reveal their links.

“We have shared information about our investigation with US law enforcement,” it said.

The latest Facebook report comes after security company FireEye released another body of evidence about Iranian state activities last year. It revealed the breadth of Iran’s disinformation efforts on social media, using fake accounts to promote the regime’s agenda and oppose Western policies it believes harms Iranian interests.

The tip-off from FireEye pushed Facebook, Google and Twitter into removing dozens of accounts suspected of links to an Iranian propaganda campaign.

Material spread by the accounts included cartoons of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, articles opposing US President Donald Trump, and others supportive of politicians seen as more favourable to Iranian policy, including British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.