Iran's Zarif slams Twitter for 'influence op' crackdown

He made the comments despite Twitter being banned in the country

FILE - In this April 24, 2018, file photo, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is interviewed by The Associated Press, in New York. Zarif has taken to YouTube on Thursday, May 3, to criticize President Donald Trump's threat to withdraw from the nuclear deal, saying Iran will not "renegotiate or add onto" the atomic accord. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
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In a series of tweets, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday called on the micro-blogging site to tackle "bot" accounts spreading calls for regime change instead of blocking accounts of Iranian public figures.

The foreign minister's comments come despite the fact that Twitter is banned in the Islamic republic. While outlawed, Twitter is popular in Iran and numerous senior politicians, officials and government departments use the site – including Mr Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in [the Albanian capital of] Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC," Mr Zarif tweeted and tagged Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey.

In the tweet he embedded a YouTube video from an Al Jazeera programme segment titled "Twitter bots manipulate online debates on Iran".

He then followed up with a second tweet pointing users to the webpage of the programme.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa weighed into the debate over the Twitter crackdown. He tweeted: "Hello @jack. Thank you for relieving the brotherly real people of Iran from all the IRGC fake accounts. Keep going, Iranian people at home and abroad agree with you."

Alireza Nader, chief executive of NRG Consulting, criticised the Qatari-backed broadcaster for reporting that the accounts taken down by Twitter had no links to the Iranian regime and that activists opposing the regime were bots themselves.

Al Jazeera "disseminates regime propaganda by claiming that cyber activists opposing the regime and its Western advocates are bots and MEK (People's Mujahedin of Iran)...Why do you debase yourself Al Jazeera?," Nader said.

In mentioning an "influence op", Mr Zarif appeared to be making reference to a recent investigation into Iran's disinformation efforts on social media.

A probe by cyber-security company FireEye last month revealed the wide reach of Tehran's propaganda efforts and its attempts to shape the opinions of Western audiences.


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A tip-off from the firm forced social media giants Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google into action. They collectively removed hundreds of social media accounts because they were suspected of originating from Iranian sources with links to the regime.

Such was the scale of the operation that Facebook alone had to remove 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts that garnered more than one million followers collectively on both platforms. Those pages spent about $12,000 on promoting their material between 2012 and 2017.

Some of the material pumped out by these accounts was supportive of left-leaning positions opposed to the administration of US President Donald Trump, who in May pulled Washington out of the landmark nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers, while other posts included cartoons of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and accusations that Riyadh interfered in the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.