Tech giants scrub accounts linked to Iran

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Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet collectively removed hundreds of accounts tied to an alleged Iranian propaganda operation on Tuesday, while Facebook took down a second campaign it said was linked to Russia.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the accounts identified on his company’s platform were part of two separate campaigns, the first from Iran with some ties to state-owned media, the second linked to sources that Washington has previously named as Russian military intelligence services.

“Such claims are ridiculous and are part and parcel of US public calls for regime change in Iran, and are an abuse of social media platforms,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations.

The Kremlin rejected Facebook’s accusations. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow did not understand the basis for such statements and that they looked like “carbon copies” of previous allegations that Moscow has denied.

Global social media companies are seeking to guard against political interference on their platforms amid rising concerns about foreign attempts to disrupt the US midterm elections in November.

The United States earlier this year indicted 13 Russians on charges they attempted to meddle in US politics, but the alleged Iranian activity, exposed by cybersecurity firm FireEye, suggests the problem may be more widespread.

“It really shows it’s not just Russia that engages in this type of activity,” Lee Foster, an information operations analyst with FireEye, told Reuters.

FireEye said the Iranian campaign used a network of fake news websites and fraudulent social media personas spread across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus and YouTube to push narratives in line with Tehran’s interests.

The activity was aimed at users in the United States, Britain, Latin America and the Middle East up to and through this month, FireEye said. It included “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes,” as well as advocacy of policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal.

FireEye said the Iranian activity did not appear “dedicated” to influencing the upcoming election, though some of the posts aimed at US users did adopt “left-leaning identities” and took stances against US President Donald Trump.

Microsoft said this week that hackers linked to the Russian government sought to steal email login credentials from US politicians and think tanks, allegations the Russian Foreign Ministry described as a “witch-hunt.”

Twitter, which called the effort “coordinated manipulation,” said it removed 284 accounts.

Facebook said it removed 254 pages and 392 accounts across its flagship platform as well as its Instagram service.

The accounts spent about $12,000 to advertise through Facebook and Instagram. Facebook said it had notified the US Treasury and State departments of the purchases, which may violate sanctions.

Alphabet, parent company of Google and YouTube, did not respond to a request for comment.

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