April 7, 2021
Facebook has removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to exiled Iranian opposition group the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) and an alleged troll farm in Albania.
In a report published on Tuesday, the social media giant said it was taking down a total of 128 pro-MEK accounts, 41 Pages, 21 Groups, and 146 Instagram accounts.
The accounts had posted content that was consistently critical of the Islamic Republic and supportive of the MEK, also commenting in Persian on news stories about Iran.
In some cases the accounts used fake profile names and pictures, including pictures of Iranian celebrities, children or dead dissidents, and some profile pictures that appeared to be AI-generated.
Facebook established that all the accounts were being run from a single location in Albania. The online activity followed the central European workday, with a noticeable pause at lunch time, suggesting a coordinated effort. Facebook did not find evidence of people being paid.
“Our investigation linked this activity to the MEK based on a number of technical signals,” the company stated. “This includes consistent and long-running infrastructure connections between the fake accounts and authentic accounts of MEK-linked individuals and pages based in Albania.”
By the time Facebook disrupted the network, some of the accounts were up to a decade old. They had been particularly active in 2016-17, with another burst of activity throughout 2020.
The accounts and pages were removed in line with Facebook’s policy on what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior”: large-scale efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal where fake accounts are central to the operation.
In the last month Facebook also removed 29 accounts, two pages, one group, and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that posted co-ordinated anti-Israel content.