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article imageOp-Ed: Facebook bans more accounts linked to Iranian influence campaign

By Ken Hanly     Oct 28, 2018 in Internet
After identifying more suspicious behavior linked to an ongoing Iranian influence campaign the company removed a combined 82 pages, groups and accounts that were pretending to be US and sometimes British citizens and organizations.
Some of the accounts had large numbers of followers
Facebook claims it removed 30 pages, 33 Facebook accounts, and three groups on Facebook. It found 16 new accounts on Instagram. About one million people followed at least one page. Approximately 25,000 people joined one of the groups. On Instagram about 28,000 people followed at least one of the accounts. Obviously, Facebook is taking down some pages and closing some accounts that people find quite interesting even though they do not pass the Facebook test of being authentic.
New bans are a continuation of a campaign begun in August
Back in August, Facebook saw evidence of an Iranian campaign designed to sow division and amplify tensions in the US. Google found that the operation was spreading to You Tube. Nathaniel Gleicher Facebook head of cybersecurity policy said: “Despite attempts to hide their true identities, a manual review of these accounts linked their activity to Iran. We also identified some overlap with the Iranian accounts and Pages we removed in August. However, it’s still early days and while we have found no ties to the Iranian government, we can’t say for sure who is responsible.” Note that there have been no actual ties found to the Iranian government.
In August, Facebook deleted over 600 accounts that it associated with Russia or Iran. It was alerted to the Iranian network by FireEye: "In July, FireEye tipped Facebook off to the existence of a network of pages known as Liberty Front Press. The network included 70 accounts, three Facebook groups, and 76 Instagram accounts, which had 155,000 Facebook followers and 48,000 Instagram followers. The network had undisclosed links to Iranian state media, Facebook said, and spent more than $6,000 between 2015 and today. The network also hosted three events." Facebook owns Instagram.
Most interventions are not aimed at supporting specific candidates
As with Russian interventions in the 2016 elections most posts are aimed at stoking tensions over high priority concerns such as immigration and race relations. Many of the examples shown by Facebook profess anti-Trump sentiment or they comment on recent controversies such as on the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There does not seem to be an attempt to spread propaganda unilaterally but to inflame current disagreements. Of course they may do this by providing information or points of view that the US establishment does not like but is well appreciated by followers of the accounts.
Facebook sets up a war room to identify and counter suspicious behavior
The war room in its Menlo Park headquarters in California is fighting misinformation on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Katie Harbath, global politics and government outreach director said in an interview: “This is going to be a constant arms race. This is our new normal. Bad actors are going to get more sophisticated in what they’re doing, and we’re going to have to get more sophisticated in trying to catch them.”
Some of those involved in the Facebook filtering of fake news are hardly neutral
In a recent Digital Journal article that discusses the war room and its function it was noted: "Among those helping Facebook to filter the news is the Atlantic Council. Rania Khalek an independent journalist said in a tweet: “This is alarming. The Atlantic Council — which is funded by gulf monarchies, western governments, NATO, oil and weapons companies, etc. — will now assist Facebook in suppressing what they decide is disinformation." In Facebook's statement which announced the partnership it said that the company will use the Atlantic Council's Digital Research Unit Monitoring Missions during elections and other highly sensitive moments.
The Gray Zone of Max Blumenthal notes that the account of Sayed Mousavi an Iranian student and independent journalist was suspended from Twitter. Mousavi pointed out that Twitter’s second-largest shareholder is the billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and that Facebook works with the Israeli government in that it censors Palestinian media based upon its requests. You do not see Facebook suspending Israeli accounts, trolls, or removing bots. He said that what is happening is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what we will see in the future. He also said of the Facebook suspensions mentioned earlier: "These suspensions were based on a questionable, thinly sourced report by the American cybersecurity firm FireEye, which is led by former US military officers."
US allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey continue to run their own troll propaganda campaigns without being shut down. Only some Saudi Arabian trolls have been suspended because they spread false news about the Khashoggi murder. They actually just report what Saudi officials say spreading the official line. This being in opposition to official US government narratives that gets you suspended.
In December 2017, journalist Glenn Greenwald warned: " “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.” Since then, the repression has only grown."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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