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Facebook Shuts 652 Russia Iran-Backed Accounts Linked In Global Disinformation Campaign

Facebook has uncovered evidence that Iran is mimicking Russia and trying to exploit the social networking service to influence politics.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced it had shut down a fake accounts and pages that appear to be tied to two groups. Russian military intelligence and Iranian state media. Both entities acted independently of each other, but used the same tactics, which revolved around trying to mislead Facebook users into “who they were and what they were doing,” the company said.

Facebook revealed the activities weeks ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in the US. However, the company found no evidence that the Russian or Iranian campaigns were attempting to influence the upcoming vote.

According to Facebook, the Russian campaign was focused on politics in Syria and Ukraine and involved spreading “pro-Russian and pro-Assad” content. “To date, we have not found activity by these accounts targeting the US,” the company said.

The Iranian campaign, on the other hand, did post political content primarily focused on the US and UK, starting in 2017. This was done through 652 fake pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which together had close to a million followers and managed to buy over $12,000-worth of ads.

Some of the fake pages and accounts were sourced to a non-profit media organization called Liberty Front Press which Facebook claims has ties to Iranian state media. Facebook also noticed links between the media organization’s activities to another set of fake accounts and pages that were engaging in traditional cyber-security attacks, such as account hacking.

The company began investigating the activities of Liberty Front Press last month on a tip from the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which has also been trying to determine who might be behind the mysterious media group.

According to Fire-eye, Liberty Front Press has been registering website domains with email addresses affiliated with advertisements for website designers in Tehran. Its Twitter accounts also appear to be registered to phone numbers with the +98 Iranian country code.

Fire-eye added that Liberty Front Press has been promoting anti-President Trump material through social media accounts on both Facebook and Twitter. However, the media organization appears to be less interested in meddling with US midterm elections than talking up pro-Iranian content. This has included circulating anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian news, along with advocating support for the US-Iran nuclear deal, Fire-eye said in a report

Liberty Front Press did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook declined to go into details on the suspected Russian campaign, like how many fake accounts and pages it involved. “We’re working closely with US law enforcement on this investigation, and we appreciate their help. These investigations are ongoing and given the sensitivity, we aren’t sharing more information about what we removed,” the company said.


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