Facebook’s cybersecurity team today said it identified and removed hundreds of accounts associated with fake accounts originating in Iran.
The company revealed it removed 783 pages, groups, accounts and events aimed at spreading misinformation related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues such as ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen and countries involved in them, including the U.S. and Russia.
The Iran-based accounts, which were disguised to look like users in countries from Afghanistan and Albania to Spain and Syria, date back as far as 2010, and about 2 million accounts followed at least one of these pages. Along with the efforts on Facebook’s flagship app, Iran-linked fake accounts were also found on Instagram, where 254,000 users followed at least one of 162 accounts. In addition, Facebook said the misinformation campaigns spent as much as $30,000 on ads across Facebook and Instagram. However, the company said it didn’t know how many users these ads reached.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity, said the company wasn’t able to identify a motive for the misinformation campaigns. However, the company revealed some examples of content associated with the accounts in a blog post.
“We have the ability to assess the actions that they’ve taken and the violations of our policies,” Gleicher said on a Thursday afternoon conference call with reporters. “We don’t have the ability to get to their thinking and what their goal is.”
The investigation stems back to the 2016 presidential campaign, when Russia-linked members of the Internet Research Association used similar tactics to help sway public opinion in favor of Donald Trump before and during the November election. Since then, the company, along with its Silicon Valley counterparts, including Twitter and Google, have been working with U.S. officials to identify the sources of misinformation and remove it from online platforms.
Facebook isn’t the only social media company that has identified and removed accounts linked to foreign actors. Twitter also revealed on Thursday that it removed more than 2,600 malicious accounts it thinks might have originated in Iran. Amid the current political upheaval in Venezuela, Twitter removed another 764 accounts that might have been linked to outside foreign governments. It also removed another 1,196 accounts in Venezuela it believes were part of a “state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences.”
“Manipulation of information for national or geopolitical ends is part of human history and transcends ideological viewpoints,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, wrote in blog post published Thursday. “The medium of communication is what has changed. … For our part, we are learning, evolving and building a technological and personnel-driven approach to combating it.”