Facebook removed a network of 'inauthentic' accounts from Iran

Facebook's logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Facebook has removed another network of accounts originating from Iran for "coordinated inauthentic behaviour" - a similar kind of political and social influence campaign that Russia used on Facebook around the 2016 US presidential election.

The network, which included more than 50 Facebook accounts, 36 Facebook pages, and a handful of Facebook groups and Instagram accounts, lied about where they were operating, and "impersonated legitimate news organisations," Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday (May 28).

Facebook declined to say whether or not the accounts were tied to any official government or political organisation, only that they originated in Iran.

The accounts posted about "the major political issues of the day," and attempted to contact influential people on Facebook like journalists and politicians, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, on a conference call with journalists.

That attempt at one-to-one contact is not a new strategy, Gleicher said, though it's a different approach than many of the larger, more broadcast-focused efforts Facebook has taken down in the past.

"This is a more sophisticated operation," Gleicher added.

Facebook said it learned about the accounts thanks to a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye, and Gleicher added that the network Facebook removed was also active on other platforms.

Twitter appears to be one of them. The social network also announced on Tuesday that it has removed a network of 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran, according to a spokesman. Twitter's investigation is ongoing and the company plans to disclose the full set of accounts when it is completed.

It is unclear how many Facebook users saw or engaged with content from these accounts, but the 36 Facebook Pages had more than 21,000 followers among them, and more than 1,900 Facebook users had joined one of the network's groups.

Facebook has taken down numerous networks of similar accounts since mid-2017. Earlier this month, it removed a network of accounts originating in Israel, and took down other accounts originating from Iran in March and January.

The influence campaign identified by FireEye went beyond social media.

"Personas in this network have also had material published in US and Israeli media outlets, attempted to lobby journalists to cover specific topics, and appear to have orchestrated audio and video interviews with US and UK-based individuals on political issues," FireEye said in its report.

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