Facebook pulls down more fake accounts from Iran

The social network says it took down 51 Facebook accounts, 36 pages and seven groups tied to Iran.

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by Techhnews

Facebook is cracking down on more fake accounts from Iran.

On Tuesday, the world’s largest social network said that it took down 51 Facebook accounts, 36 pages and seven groups tied to Iran. Facebook, which owns Instagram, also removed three accounts on the photo sharing app.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said the company pulled down the accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which means the people behind the accounts deceived users about their identity and what they were doing.

The Iranian accounts impersonated news outlets in the Middle East and tried to make it appear as if they were located in the US or Europe. Some of the people behind the accounts tried to contact users, including journalists, policy makers, academics and Iranian dissidents. Gleicher said a “small number” of people will be notified through various ways that they were contacted by one of these accounts. He didn’t say how many users Facebook will be contacting. 

Unlike other Iranian-linked accounts Facebook has spotted in the past, this operation didn’t appear to focus on creating “large public splashes” on websites or social media platforms, Gleicher said during a conference call. 

“Part of the focus of this operation seems to have been direct outreach to individuals while using these personas that they adopted,” he said.

The accounts, which shared posts in English and Arabic, posted about topics “like public figures and politics in the US and UK, US secessionist movements, Islam, Arab minorities in Iran and the influence of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.” 

A Facebook page is similar to an account on the social network but is used by businesses, organizations and public figures. A Facebook group is an online space where the social network’s users can gather to chat about a certain interest. 

The Iranian-linked accounts garnered thousands of followers but not as many as some of the social network’s previous account takedowns, according to Facebook. About 21,000 accounts followed one or more of these fake pages. Roughly 1,900 accounts joined one or more of the Facebook groups and 2,600 people followed one or more of the three Instagram accounts. Gleicher said the company isn’t notifying users who followed one of the accounts or pages because Facebook doesn’t want to “overload” users with a lot of notifications and raise concerns that aren’t helpful. 

Facebook said it started looking into these Iranian-linked accounts after a tip from US cybersecurity firm FireEye. Some of the activity from these accounts also took place off of Facebook and on other social media platforms and websites, Gleicher said. 

The social network has announced a series of fake account takedowns tied to Iran since 2018. In January, Facebook and Twitter announced that they took down thousands of pages and accounts that originated in Iran. 

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