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Facebook and Twitter removed hundreds of accounts linked to Iran, Russia and Venezuela - The Guardian

01.02.2019, 11:48
The Facebook accounts had garnered about 2 million followers and researchers say they amplified anti-west views, as The Guardian reported. Facebook and Twitter both announced on Thursday they had taken down hundreds of accounts believed to have been part of coordinated influence operations from Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Facebook removed 783 pages, groups and accounts that it said posed as local actors in countries across Europe, the Middle East and south Asia and shared content that was largely repurposed from Iranian state media. The accounts, some of which had been active since 2010, had garnered about 2 million followers on Facebook and more than 250,000 followers on Instagram. While Facebook demurred from ascribing a motive to the operation, researchers with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who analyzed the accounts said that it appeared designed to amplify views “in line with Iranian government’s international stances”. “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,” the researchers wrote in a blog post. Several of the accounts focused on sharing pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli content, in French, English, Spanish and Hebrew. Many advanced pro-Iran, anti-Saudi Arabia messages to a largely Middle Eastern, Arabic-speaking audience. One targeted an English-language audience and posted 9/11 conspiracy theories. More than 30% of the removed accounts had been active for at least five years, the researchers said. The accounts purchased less than $30,000 in advertising on Facebook and Instagram, the company said. They also promoted eight “events” since May 2014, but Facebook said it could not confirm whether the events had actually taken place. Separately, Twitter announced that it had deleted thousands of “malicious” accounts from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The accounts had “limited operations” targeting the US midterm elections in November, the company said, and the majority were suspended prior to election day. Twitter identified two operations in Venezuela. The first involved 764 accounts and distributed “spammy content focused on divisive political themes”. The platform was not able to “definitively” attribute the activity to a government-backed influence campaign, but said it removed the accounts anyway. The second Venezuelan campaign involved 1,196 accounts, which Twitter said appeared to be part of a state-backed influence campaign targeting Venezuelans. The takedowns were “an encouraging example of the type of collaboration we’re trying to build across industry”, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, on a conference call with reporters. Gleicher said that Facebook had acted in part on information shared with the company by Twitter. Facebook also had its own ongoing investigation into inauthentic behavior from Iran, having previously announced account takedowns in August and October of 2018. Gleicher said that Twitter had shared information about the Venezuelan influence operations, and that Facebook was now “investigating those leads”. The Guardian
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