Following a report from US cyber-security firm FireEye, Facebook has removed 652 pages, groups, and accounts associated with social media influence campaigns coming out of Iran.
The purpose of this campaign was to promote anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian narratives, but also support US policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), which President Trump has recently withdrawn the US from.
Facebook said it identified three main clusters of Iran-based accounts, pages, and groups. Some of these were registered as far back as 2011.
The social network says that at the center of these campaigns is an entity named "Liberty Front Press," which has been promoting most of the English-written content, which was primarily aimed at US and UK users.
"We are able to link this network to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook Pages sharing the same admins," Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook said in a statement late last night.
"For example, one part of the network, 'Quest 4 Truth,' claims to be an independent Iranian media organization, but is in fact linked to Press TV, an English-language news network affiliated with Iranian state media," Gleicher added.
FireEye said it did not find any evidence to link any of these accounts or the emails used to register accounts with Iran's government-based cyber-espionage groups, such as APT35, also known as Newscaster.
The cyber-security firm says the social media influence campaign was not aimed at the US 2018 Midterm Elections but was mainly focused on promoting Iran's national interests.
The group registered both Facebook and Instagram accounts, and they published posts in English, Arabic, and Farsi, aimed at several countries, including in the Middle East and Latin America, not just the US and UK.
|Cluster #1||74 pages
|76 accounts||155,000 (Facebook pages)
2,300 (Facebook groups)
48,000+ for at least one Instagram account
|Cluster #2||12 pages
|9 acocunts||15,000 (Facebook pages)
1,100+ for at least one Instagram account
|Cluster #3||168 pages
|31 accounts||813,000 (Facebook pages)
10,000+ for at least one Instagram account
Here are some sample posts made by some of these accounts and pages.
Furthermore, Facebook also said it removed another set of accounts and pages linked to a social media influence campaign carried out of Russia. The social network did not say how many accounts it removed, but this comes after Facebook recently suspended 32 accounts at the end of July.
Coincidentally or not, on the same day, Twitter also announced it removed 284 for "coordinated manipulation," but did not provide any details if the removal was related to the FireEye report, Iran, or Russia.
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) August 22, 2018
UPDATE [August 23]: Google, too, has announced that it removed three email accounts, three YouTube channels, and three Google+ accounts linked to the influence campaign uncovered by FireEye.