Sophisticated Pro-Regime Social Network Uncovered on Twitter and Facebook
On Tuesday, May 28th, California-based cybersecurity company FireEye released a new report revealing its recent discovery of a network of English-language social media accounts that engaged in “inauthentic behavior and misrepresentation” in support of “Iranian political interests.” Although the determination that the accounts were associated with Iranian political interests was made with “low confidence,” the findings followed similar discoveries last summer of hundreds of fake social media accounts by Iranian regime agents.
Voice of America reported on the revelations by FireEye on Thursday, noting that the newly-uncovered network of fake social media accounts is more sophisticated than the accounts that were identified and taken down last year.
The United States has expressed concern about the most recent effort by the Iranian regime to manipulate Americans through fake social media accounts.
Falsified Real World Identities
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) May 29, 2019
According to the FireEye report, some of the social media users posed as American journalists and activists from both sides of the political spectrum, while others “impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018.”
FireEye reported that the fake and spoofed identities were used to manipulate U.S. and Israeli media outlets and journalists into covering specific topics, conducting interviews with chosen individuals, and publishing editorial content.
The same network has been bashing #MEK, #Iran's main democratic opposition again in favor of the dictatorship ruling Iran.
BTW, does @Twitter & @Facebook see any similarities between those #FakeAccount s & @NIAC related accounts who actually lead those campaign?
— Ka Veh (@kaveh20092009) May 28, 2019
FireEye senior manager Lee Foster spoke to the Washington Post about the network of falsified accounts. According to a Wednesday article, Foster told the newspaper that “the theft of real-world identities — along with attempts to reach specific, highly influential individuals online — represented a more sophisticated operation than the campaign FireEye identified last year.”
Reuters also reported that “The inauthentic Facebook accounts instead often privately messaged high profile figures, including journalists, policy-makers and Iranian dissidents, to promote certain issues.” The Iranian opposition, namely the MEK has long been subject to a large campaign of disinformation by the Iranian regime related accounts.
The campaign discovered in August 2018 consisted of hundreds of fake social media accounts and news sites that spread pro-regime propaganda. A number of the posts were targeted at the MEK and the Iranian Resistance. The accounts originated within Iran.
Responses from Twitter and Facebook
Facebook and Twitter both took immediate action in response to the revelations by FireEye. They each released statements saying that they had suspended the accounts of the network from all of their platforms. Both of the social media companies stated that the accounts originated in Iran but declined to identify the owners of the accounts.
In its statement, Facebook said that it had acted on a tip from FireEye and removed 51 personal accounts, 36 pages, seven groups and three Instagram accounts associated with the network on Tuesday after conducting their own investigation into “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
A spokesperson from Twitter stated that the social media company removed 2,800 accounts associated with the network in early May.
Foster told NBC News that the newest effort by the Iranian regime to infiltrate American politics shows that “actors who engage in this type of influence activity leverage all manner of different tactics and techniques that stretch across a wide variety of media and platforms.” He stressed that “American society must figure out a way to effectively tackle the issue.”
Voice of America Persia emailed the U.S. State Department for comment on the FireEye report. On Thursday, a State Department spokesperson responded, saying that the United States is “deeply concerned” with the reports of “coordinated inauthentic behavior. We have no further comment as to who was behind the accounts.”