Facebook removes malicious Iranian accounts to counter poll-rigging

News by Doug Olenick

Iran is not the only nation causing problems for Facebook. It removed nearly 700 pages, groups and accounts in India in March ahead of the general elections.

Facebook has removed dozens of accounts, pages and groups that had thousands of followers, which were created by Iranians in the hope of swaying public opinion during the 2018 election cycle.

The social media giant said on 28 May it had removed 51 accounts, 36 pages and seven groups from Facebook, along with three Instagram accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is Facebook-speak for groups of pages or people using the site working together to mislead others about who they are and what they are doing, according to Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

About 21,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages, about 1,900 accounts joined one or more of the groups and 2,600 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.

"They purported to be located in the US and Europe, used fake accounts to run Pages and Groups, and impersonated legitimate news organisations in the Middle East. The individuals behind this activity also represented themselves as journalists or other personas and tried to contact policymakers, reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents and other public figures," Gleicher wrote this week.

Facebook gave a hat tip to FireEye for its work in digging into these fraudulent accounts. The security company first disclosed these issues in 2018, but recently saw a new crop of influence peddling sites pop up. FireEye assessed only with "low confidence" that the campaign was organised in support of Iranian interests.

"In addition to utilising fake American personas that espoused both progressive and conservative political stances, some accounts impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018," FireEye wrote.

FireEye at this time does not see a connection between this most recent activity and what was spotted last year, but noted the accounts were promoting material similar to what was being posted in 2018.

Iran is not the only nation causing problems for Facebook. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, on 29 May expressed her displeasure with the company for allowing video of her that was edited to make her appear drunk to remain on its site, according to KQED News.

Pelosi said the fact that Facebook knows the videos in question are fake and has not removed them from the far right Facebook accounts brings into question whether or not Facebook was manipulated, as it contends, when it comes to Russian influence in the 2016 election.

Facebook removed nearly 700 pages, groups and accounts in India in March, for "violating Facebook’s policies on coordinated inauthentic behavior and spam". The move was done ahead of the 2019 Indian general election, which was held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May.

Facebook India managing director Ajit Mohan said in April that the company has partnered with third-party fact-checkers to seven accredited organisations in India ahead of the elections. With 241 million active members, India is the social media giant's largest market.

The original version of this article came in SC Media US.

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