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Facebook removes hundreds more pages linked to Iranian influence campaign

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Nearly 800 assets were removed

illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Today, Facebook removed nearly 800 accounts that were engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior originating in Iran and operated in a number of other countries across the world.

In total, Facebook identified 262 pages, 356 accounts, and three groups that were involved in the coordinated inauthentic behavior by Iran. There were 162 Instagram accounts that were identified as well. Facebook would not confirm that the accounts were created by the Iranian government. No related behavior was found on WhatsApp, according to Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

“In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” Gleicher wrote in the post.

The Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR) analyzed the accounts that Facebook had identified. According to DFR, much of the content posted across these groups and pages spread pro-Iranian messages and engaged in amplifying already polarizing topics, like the Israel-Palestine conflict.

According to Facebook, about 2 million accounts followed at least one of the Iranian Facebook pages and around 1,600 others had joined the groups. More than 254,000 accounts followed the Instagram profiles. Less than $30,000 were spent on ads on both of the platforms and were paid in US dollars, UK pounds, euros, and Canadian dollars. Facebook did not say how many people the advertisements reached.

Around 30 percent of these assets had been active for more than five years, in some cases suggesting that Iranian entities had been engaged in online influence campaigns since around 2010.

These Iranian accounts were discovered as part of a larger investigation that resulted in other Iranian accounts being removed last year. In October, Facebook removed 82 other pages, groups, and accounts originating from Iran which targeted people in the US.

According to Gleicher, many of these new Iranian accounts were found after Twitter shared its own data on inauthentic behavior with Facebook. Earlier today, Twitter put out its own report on bad-faith actors that were engaged in these behaviors throughout the US midterm elections. In that report, Twitter said that it had discovered social media operations in Iran, and Venezuela and Russia as well.