Facebook has removed 82 pages, groups and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that originated out of Iran.
The social networking giant discovered the “inauthentic behavior” late last week, according to a blog post by the company’s cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher. He said the operation relied on posing as U.S. and U.K. citizens, and “posted about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the President, and immigration.” The company said that although its investigation is in its early stages, it traced the activity back to Iran but does not yet know who is responsible.
Facebook said that a little over one million accounts followed at least one of the pages run by the Iranian actors. The takedown also included 16 accounts on Instagram.
The actors spent “less than $100” on two ads on Facebook and Instagram using both U.S. and Canadian currency, which helped the actors gain a greater reach to Facebook users.
The company shared its findings with the FBI and the Atlantic Council prior to the takedowns, Gleicher added on a call. “We moved from detection to disruption in less than a week,” he said.
An analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab of the latest takedowns said the “accounts sought to drive engagement on the platforms, rather than off them, with a mixture of memes, videos, and authored comments,” which the lab said “appears to have worked” with posts receiving large numbers of shares and replies.
“The foreign-policy messaging was in keeping with earlier Iranian networks, which primarily amplified Iranian government narratives on the Middle East,” said the analysis. “The focus on divisive content is much closer to the behavior of the Russian information operation, although the Iranian operation does not appear to have targeted conservatives as much as liberals.”
It’s the latest batch of account and content takedowns in recent months. Facebook took down hundreds of accounts and pages in August with help from security firm FireEye, which found a widespread Iranian influencing operation on the social media platform. Although previous efforts by Facebook to take down accounts linked with spreading disinformation aimed at elections, the Iranian-backed campaign was targeting a scattering of issues. FireEye said in its analysis that the various narratives employed by the Iranians include “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favorable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.”
Tech titans like Facebook have faced increasing pressure from lawmakers to better police their platforms from disinformation and the spread of false news from state-backed actors in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.
Although much of the focus has been on activity linked to trolls working for the Russian government, which used disinformation spreading tactics to try to influence the outcome of the election, Iran has emerged as a separate powerhouse in its use of spreading disinformation on the platform.