Facebook shuts 652 Iran-backed accounts linked in global disinformation campaign

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come under scrutiny after the company admitted that Russian agents ran political influence operations on the social network in 2016

Facebook Takes Down Political Influence Campaigns Operating in Russia, Iran Before Midterms

The Iranian effort dated to 2011 and had ties to state media operations in that country, Facebook said, involving hundreds of accounts on both Facebook and its sister site, Instagram.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies have been scrambling to protect their platforms ahead of the midterm elections in November in an effort to weed out potential operations by foreign actors to politically influence American voters.

"These were networks of accounts that were misleading people about who they were and what they were doing", CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters. "While these are some of the same bad actors we removed for cybersecurity attacks before the 2016 United States election, this more recent activity focused on politics in Syria and Ukraine".

Twitter also revealed it had suspended 284 accounts for engaging in "coordinated manipulation".

A different set of accounts, which was unrelated to the Iranian accounts, were tied to Russian military intelligence, the company said.

Facebook said there was no evidence that the disinformation tactics originating from Russian Federation and Iran were in anyway linked.

The Tuesday announcement came as the company is under increased scrutiny from lawmakers for allowing such activity to proliferate.

In late July, Facebook also removed 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram that collectively had almost 300,000 followers, including thousands that expressed interest in events they promoted.

The Facebook investigation was prompted by a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye regarding a collection of "Liberty Front Press" pages on the social network and other online services.

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Facebook was first notified of the Iranian cache by FireEye, a security firm.

The social media giant also deleted a number of unrelated accounts originating in Russian Federation, which were identified as linked to the country's military intelligence.

FireEye said the USA -focused Iranian activity ramped up just months after Trump took office, with websites and social media accounts posting memes and articles, some of which were apparently copied from legitimate US and Iranian news outlets.

Of course, it's very much aware of the use of similar activities during the 2016 USA election to influence and possibly change the outcomes, as well as the Brexit vote.

But not finding a connection between this operation and Russian Federation doesn't mean Facebook hasn't been busy with Putin & Co. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 members of the GRU last month, accusing them of hacking the US Democratic Party.

Facebook added that they have "removed pages, groups and accounts that can be linked to sources the United States government has previously identified as Russian military intelligence services". "It can also make it harder for law enforcement who are running their own investigations".

Mark Zuckerberg's network has stepped up policing of Facebook since it admitted Russian agents had been able to run politically influential campaigns before the 2016 presidential election. Those accounts too appeared to originate in Iran.

Facebook and Twitter have reported successes in battling alleged information manipulation by Iran-linked accounts. On Tuesday, Facebook said it had found more such pages and had removed them.

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