Facebook, Twitter Ban Fake Accounts Linked to Iran, Russia

22 August, 2018

The social media companies Facebook and Twitter announced they have found and banned hundreds of accounts, groups and pages linked to Russia and Iran.

Facebook said Tuesday it removed over 600 pages, groups and accounts linked to Russia and Iran. The accounts, the company said, were involved with "coordinated inauthentic behavior" that included the sharing of false political material.

Shortly after Facebook's announcement, Twitter said it had also suspended more than 280 accounts for coordinated disinformation. Many of the removed accounts appeared to have been created in Iran.

Facebook has aimed to improve its security since last year, when it admitted that Russian agents successfully used its services to run political disinformation operations. The efforts were aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

FILE - An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013.
FILE - An iPhone with Twitter, Facebook and other apps, May 21, 2013.

Other social media companies have also increased their security efforts to find fake accounts.

Well-funded efforts

The latest discovery was far larger than the group of fake accounts Facebook reportedly found last month. Facebook removed 32 accounts on Facebook and Instagram in late July that it believed were fake and possibly linked to Russia. Together, the accounts had nearly 300,000 followers. Their content generally related to U.S. political activity ahead of the midterm elections in November.

However, Facebook said the largest group of fake accounts appeared more interested in influencing U.S. foreign policy and politics in the Middle East.

Facebook said it had not finished its examination of the material. It did not say how or why the state-backed actors were behaving the way they did.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Tuesday afternoon, "There's a lot we don't know yet."

Facebook said it has informed the American and British governments of the efforts. It also informed the U.S. Treasury and State departments because of ongoing sanctions against Iran.

Zuckerberg said, "You're going to see people try to abuse the services in every way possible ... including now nation states." He described the campaigns as intelligent and as "well-funded efforts that aren't going to stop."

Extending beyond U.S. politics

FireEye is a cybersecurity firm. It informed Facebook of some of latest activity involving Russian- and Iranian-backed accounts. It said that it "does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, as it extends well beyond U.S. audiences and U.S. politics."

Facebook said its latest action on Tuesday resulted from four investigations. Three involved Iran, and one involved Russia.

The first investigation centered on a group called "Liberty Front Press" that set up several accounts on Facebook and Instagram. The accounts were followed by 155,000 other accounts. Facebook said the group was linked to Iranian state media, based on website registrations, IP addresses and administrator accounts.

FireEye called the Liberty Front Press group an influence operation trying to promote Iranian political interests. These include "anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes," and support for the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, FireEye said.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement earlier this year.

FireEye said the group did not appear to be attempting to influence the U.S. midterm elections. But it said that does not necessarily mean these efforts are not happening.

The second group that was investigated also had several accounts and a total of 15,000 followers. The group was linked to "Liberty Front Press" and attempted to access people's accounts to spread computer viruses. Facebook said it stopped those attempts.

A third group also operating out of Iran had as many as 813,000 followers, and shared political content about the Middle East, Britain and the United States.

In total, the Iranian-linked groups spent about $12,000 in advertising.

A fourth group, connected to the Russian military, attempted to influence politics in Syria and the Ukraine.

Next month, leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter will answer questions from the Senate intelligence committee about their efforts to fight political disinformation.

I'm Anna Matteo.

This story was originally reported by Ryan Nakashima for the Associated Press Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English using other media. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

How do you think social media companies should protect their services from fake accounts? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

fake - adj. not true or real

coordinate - v. to make arrangements so that two or more people or groups of people can work together properly and well

cybersecurity - n. the state of being protected against the criminal or unauthorized use of electronic data, or the measures taken to achieve this.

disinformation - n. false information that is given to people in order to make them believe something or to hide the truth

inauthentic - adj. not real, accurate, or sincere

sanctions - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc. — usually plural

IP address - n. a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network.

sanction - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country