October 22, 2019
Facebook has announced a series of new measures that are designed to protect the 2020 U.S. elections. The measures were announced today and they included the labeling of state controlled media, protecting accounts of 2020 presidential candidates and introducing a ban on advertising of posts that suggest “voting is useless.”
Facebook claims to have dismantled three networks of Pages and Groups on Facebook and Instagram that originated in Iran. These networks were targeting U.S. Latin America and partially also North Africa.
Facebook provided some of the posts that were traced to Iranian networks.
The network of 93 Facebook accounts and 17 Pages used news items and focused on topics such as the U.S.-Israeli relations, the conflict in Yemen and the Palestinian issue.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has supported Palestinian groups since its inception in 1979 and Iranian officials have repeatedly called for annihilation of Israel. The name Israel is banned from Iranian media, instead “Zionist” entity is used.
Interestingly some of the disinformation also targeted French speakers in North Africa.
The post says Donald Trump has accused John McCain and Lindsey Graham of wanting to trigger a war against Russia.
According the Facebook’s investigation, Iran also tried to influence public opinion in Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. In these countries the network used repurposed Iranian state media stories on standard topics such as Hezbollah and tensions in the Persian Gulf. The posts also attempted to portray the United States and bad actor in the region.
Translation: “The FANB: More than 54 airplanes from the United States performed “Radio exploration” of Venezuelan Territory during September. The operations commander reported that radar had detected at least 54 incursions of US spy planes during this month.”
Translation: Line 1 “Palestinians claim that the area called south…” Line2: “Israel carries out the largest project of demolition of Palestinian houses in occupied Jerusalem. How does the world react?”
Iran has had extensive influence-building operations in Latin American countries for a long time, where Hezbollah elements living in the region as immigrants from Lebanon can give Iran a helping hand.
Having influence and strong relations in Latin America helps Iran come out of its usual diplomatic isolation and potentially pose a threat to the United States.
The smallest of the networks that was removed was dedicated to the United States. In this case Facebook alleges that those behind the operation posed as locals and created a fake news content playing on racial tensions in the United States. The individuals directed people off social media platforms to websites with a mix of news about the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement and news about prominent Iranian officials.
For example, one post used the denial of the State Department to grant Javad Zarif the right to visit Iran’s UN ambassador who was in a New York hospital during the UNGA meeting this year. However, when Zarif posted a tweet lamenting the U.S. restriction on his movements in New York City, many Iranians in exile reacted in disdain since they are not allowed to visit their sick or dying family members in Iran.
Several major U.S. technology firms have reported malicious activity tracing back to Iran which was attempting to disrupt U.S. elections or influence public opinion. On October 4th Microsoft reported “significant cyber activity by a threat group we call Phosphorus, which we believe originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government.”
In June of 2019 Twitter announced the removal of more than 4000 accounts linked to Iran.