Ahead of the midterm elections, Facebook has been attempting to avoid a repeat of the controversy over democracy-damaging misinformation spread on its sites during the US 2016 presidential race.
As part of this effort to better root out misleading and untrustworthy users, Facebook has been carrying out a series of investigations into accounts it deems suspicious. On Tuesday, the social media giant published a blog post stating that it had removed from Facebook and Instagram 652 pages, groups and accounts from Iran that engaged in ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’.
This follows the news in July that Facebook had uncovered a Russian campaign designed to specifically influence November’s midterms, resulting in the removal of 32 accounts and pages from the same platforms. Facebook appears to be on high alert now, after criticism that slack policies allowed accounts controlled by Russian interest groups to spread wildly misleading information which potentially swung the 2016 election in favour of Donald Trump.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy, writes that on the basis of a tip from an independent cybersecurity firm, FireEye, Facebook investigated “Liberty Front Press” and found several accounts and pages linked to it through shared IP addresses and admins. ‘Quest 4 Truth’, part of this network, claimed to be an independent media organisation in Iran, but proved to be attached to Press TV, a news company linked with Iranian state media. The conglomerate published political posts as far back as 2013, focusing in particular on the US and UK from 2017. As noted to CNN by an Analyst from FireEye, this activity did not appear to be designed to determine the outcome of the midterms in particular, but it demonstrates the presence and potential influence of international actors attempting to manipulate the political landscape of another country through the sites.
Recent developments suggest that the coordinated campaign of misinformation coming from Iran goes deeper than just Facebook and Instagram. Twitter on Wednesday confirmed that it had taken down 284 misleading accounts that claimed to be based elsewhere (mostly in the US and UK) while actually being controlled from Iran. Google+ and YouTube accounts are also thought to be used by Liberty Front Press.
Social media is of course not the only way foreign entities can attempt to infiltrate the American political process. On Monday, Microsoft announced that a Russian cyber strike had tried unsuccessfully to hack data from various conservative political thinktanks, such as the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute.
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