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Facebook: Irans been posting hundreds of fake pages since 2011

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Enlarge / A car passes by Facebook's corporate headquarters location in Menlo Park, California, on March 21, 2018. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

Yet again, Facebook announced that it removed hundreds of inauthentic pages, groups, and accounts on its platform that were used to "mislead others about who they were and what they were doing."

The Tuesday announcement came as the company is under increased scrutiny from lawmakers for allowing such activity to proliferate.

Last year, Facebook admitted that it sold advertising space to dubious Russian buyers who aimed to sow discord via American political memes.

The social media giant said Tuesday evening that the new campaigns originated in Iran and Russia.

  • These images were created by "Liberty Front Press," which Facebook says began in 2013 by Iranian state media.
  • Another pair of cartoons from Liberty Front Press, which spent $6,000 on ads on Facebook and Instagram.
  • These cartoons were focused on Middle Eastern and American politics.
  • Another Iranian effort sought to exploit divisions within the United Kingdom.

Like previous rounds of political speech designed to stoke tensions within the American body politic, these items also targeted users in the United Kingdom, Latin America, and the Middle East.

One, dubbed "Liberty Front Press," was linked to Press TV, an Iranian state broadcaster. The Iranian efforts began as early as 2011.

Facebook was first notified of the Iranian cache by FireEye, a security firm.

"This operation is leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and clusters of associated accounts across multiple social media platforms to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests," FireEye wrote on Tuesday evening:

These narratives include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific US policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). 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.

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The Iranian efforts were also present on Twitter and Instagram.

Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 22, 2018

The Russian group, meanwhile, was linked to Russian military intelligence, and seemed to be focused on pro-Kremlin policies in Syria and Ukraine.

"To date, we have not found activity by these accounts targeting the US," Facebook wrote.

By coincidence, the announcement came on the same day that a top government cybersecurity official told a Senate subcommittee hearing that North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia constituted the "greatest cyberthreats to the US."

"These states are using cyber operations as a low-cost tool of statecraft, and we believe they will work to use cyber operations to achieve strategic objectives unless they face clear repercussions for their cyber operations," Michael Moss, the deputy director at the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, told the subcommittee on Tuesday.

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