Facebook removes Iran-linked accounts as analysts tie some to disinformation campaign

Facebook on Tuesday removed 51 user accounts, 36 pages and seven groups and three Instagram accounts that originated in Iran and engaged in "inauthentic behavior" on social media.

The removals were tied to findings by FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity firm that uncovered the activity in August 2018. The entities pretended to be users residing in the U.S. and parts of Europe, and attempted to contact policymakers, reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents and other public figures, according to a statement by Facebook.

The affected entities appeared to be disseminating information that promoted Iranian interests -- for example, spreading support for the Iran nuclear deal while slamming Trump administration policies and stances. In some rare instances, they deviated from the usual political agenda to spread pro-Trump and anti-Iran messages, a tactic meant to distract, according to FireEye’s analysis.

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“It is possible that these accounts were seeking to build an audience with views antipathetic to Iran that could then later be targeted with pro-Iranian messaging,” said research compiled by FireEye.

Said Facebook, “We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.”

Facebook said the FireEye analysis prompted an internal investigation into Iran-based disinformation, which allowed the site to identify fake accounts and take them down.

The cybersecurity company identified dozens of Twitter accounts as well -- some impersonated Republican House candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

Tweet by suspect account @livengood_marla, dated Sept. 24, 2018, at left; tweet by Livengood’s verified account, dated Sept. 1, 2018.

Tweet by suspect account @livengood_marla, dated Sept. 24, 2018, at left; tweet by Livengood’s verified account, dated Sept. 1, 2018. (FireEye)

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Facebook pledged to get ahead of disinformation campaigns on its platforms by “investing heavily in building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other technology companies.”