Facebook Removes 652 Pages Tied to Iran-Based Influence Campaigns

Cathy He
By Cathy He
August 22, 2018USshare

Facebook has removed hundreds of pages, groups, and accounts originating in Iran that were part of influence campaigns targeting multiple countries including the United States, the company announced on Aug. 21.

The pages and groups had ties to Iranian state media and targeted people in the United States, United Kingdom, Latin America, and the Middle East, according to the company.

Facebook said in a blog post that the Iran-based coordinated campaigns included 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts that amassed more than 1 million followers across the two services. Those behind the pages spent more than $12,000 on advertisements between 2012 and 2017, the company said.

“[The campaigns] used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Facebook said.

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

In a related development, Twitter announced on Aug. 21 that it had removed 284 accounts, many of which originated from Iran, for “engaging in coordinated manipulation.” The company said it is working with law enforcement and other companies.

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.

Accounts Linked to Iranian State Media

Facebook said it launched its investigation in July after it received a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye about “Liberty Front Press,” a network of pages and accounts.

Using clues such as website registrations and IP addresses, Facebook was able to link Liberty Front Press to Iranian state media, which is bound by censorship mandated by Iran’s Islamic regime. The first Liberty Front Press accounts Facebook found were created in 2013.

Another set of suspicious accounts and pages that originated in Iran could be traced back to 2011.

One part of the network called “Quest 4 Truth” claimed to be an independent Iranian media organization but was in fact linked to an English-language news network affiliated with Iranian state media, Facebook said.

The company said many of the accounts and pages posed as news organizations and civil society groups and did not reveal their true identity.

Samples of the posts, released by Facebook, shows the pages posted on a number of divisive political issues, including Brexit, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, U.S.-North Korea relations, and immigration.

The pages also had politically-oriented names like ‘The British Left,’ ‘Free Scotland 2014,’ ‘Progressive Front,’ and ‘Patriotic Palestinian Front.’

Some of the accounts also attempted to hack other people’s accounts and spread malware, which were thwarted by Facebook.

The company said the investigation also impacted on how it complied with U.S. sanctions on Iran, which prohibit companies from providing ad services to the country.

While the company currently screens the location of every advertiser to ensure it is not a sanctioned entity, it said changes will be made to enhance detection methods.

“Based on what we learn in this investigation and from government officials, we’ll make changes to better detect people who try to evade our sanctions compliance tools and prevent them from advertising,” Facebook said.

Facebook said the investigation is ongoing and it is currently working with the U.S. and UK governments.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc. contributed to this article.

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