What just happened? Facebook’s long-running battle to keep political influence campaigns from foreign governments off its platform is showing no signs of stopping. The social media giant said it just took down 652 Pages, groups and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that originated in Iran and Russia.
In addition to the usual goal of influencing US politics, the campaigns targeted people in the UK, Middle East, and Latin America. Three of the four separate campaigns came from Iran.
“These were networks of accounts that were misleading people about who they were and what they were doing,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters. “We ban this kind of behavior because authenticity matters. People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook.”
Cybersecurity company FireEye informed Facebook of the ‘Liberty Front Press’ network of pages last month. It consisted of 74 Pages, 70 accounts, and 3 groups, along with 76 accounts on Instagram, and boasted 155,000 Facebook followers and 48,000 Instagram followers. The network spent $6000 on ads since 2015 and had hosted 3 events.
FireEye said the aim was to “promote Iranian political interests, including anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as promote support for specific US policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal.” It included many anti-Trump messages and “the alignment of social media personas with an American liberal identity.” The company notes that the activity does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the upcoming midterm elections.
Another campaign that was related to Liberty Front Press had 12 Pages and 66 Facebook accounts, with over 15,000 followers in total. The network, which posed as a news organization, was involved in cyberattacks and hacking attempts.
The third campaign was made up of 168 Pages and 140 accounts on Facebook, as well as 31 on Instagram. It mostly shared content about Middle East politics in Arabic and Farsi, but also shared content about politics in the US and UK. The network spent $6000 on Facebook ads since the first one ran in 2012, and it hosted 25 events.
Facebook didn’t reveal very much about the fourth campaign: a collection of pages, groups, and accounts linked to the Russian military intelligence services. It had no obvious links to Iran and spread political messages relating to Syria and Ukraine and did not target the US.
Soon after Facebook’s post, Twitter announced it had banned 284 accounts for “coordinated manipulation” originating in Iran.
Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) 22 August 2018
Facebook said it is working closely with US law enforcement on the investigation and had briefed the US and UK governments.