Facebook kills 650 Russian, Iranian accounts for 'inauthentic behavior'

Facebook suspends multiple campaigns that have used ads and fake news to manipulate political discourse.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Video: Facebook continues to fight false news.

Facebook has taken down 652 pages, groups, and accounts for using the platform to influence political discussions in the US, UK, Latin America, and the Middle East.

The company was tipped off by security firm FireEye in July about the influence campaigns and announced on Wednesday it had since taken down 652 accounts that originated in Iran, some with well over 100,000 followers.

The social network has also removed an unspecified number of pages, groups, and accounts previously linked by the US government to the Russian military, which was using the platform to spread propaganda favorable to Russia and Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad. This campaign is unrelated to the Iranian takedowns.

FireEye's tip prompted Facebook to probe a group of accounts under the name 'Liberty Front Press', which it linked to Press TV, an English-language news network affiliated with Iranian state media.

FireEye notes the accounts' content focused mostly on pro-Iranian issues, including the US-Iran nuclear deal, JCPOA.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The actors also used fake personas who masqueraded as fans of US Senator Bernie Sanders to spread pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli propaganda.

"The activity we have uncovered is significant, and demonstrates that actors beyond Russia continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations to shape political discourse," FireEye said in its account.

The earliest Liberty Front Press accounts Facebook found were created in 2013, according to Facebook. In total it found 74 Pages, 70 accounts, three groups on Facebook, and 76 accounts on Instagram.

Facebook found 155,000 accounts followed at least one of the group's pages, and 2,300 accounts had joined at least one of its Facebook groups, while over 48,000 accounts followed at least one of the Instagram accounts.

The group also spent more than $6,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads that were paid for in US and Australian dollars.

Another set of accounts Facebook found were created from 2016 onwards. These were mostly bogus news publishers, but were engaged in account hijacking and spreading malware.

A third set of accounts uncovered were first created in 2011 and focused on Middle East politics. Facebook says it spotted these in August 2017 but expanded its search in July 2018 as part of its focus on influence campaigns ahead of the US 2018 midterm elections.

Around 813,000 accounts followed at least one of this group's pages and more than 10,000 accounts followed at least one of its Instagram pages. The group spent $6,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads that were paid for in US dollars, Turkish lira, and Indian rupees. The ads ran between July 2012 and April 2018.

Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said it had shared its findings with the US and UK governments, as well as US Treasury and the State Department due to current US sanctions on Iran.

Microsoft yesterday revealed its takedown of six domains that it believes were created by Russian intelligence and were planned to support spearphishing campaigns targeting US politicians and think-tanks ahead of the midterm elections.

Facebook in July revealed it had discovered 32 bad actors that were attempting use the social network to influence the midterm elections.

Twitter also revealed it had suspended 284 accounts for engaging in "coordinated manipulation".

"Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran," the Twitter Safety account said in a tweet.

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