Facebook, Twitter boot accounts tied to Iran, Russia for coordinated deception

Within hours of each other on Tuesday, both Facebook and Twitter announced that they had removed nearly 1,000 accounts for manipulative or inauthentic behavior. Twitter removed 284 accounts and Facebook slashed 652 pages, groups and accounts, the companies said. Many of the accounts appeared to originate from Iran.

Coordinated inauthentic behavior is Facebook’s buzzword that covers issues like foreign election interference and real events created by fake accounts. The network’s latest investigation has booted off hundreds of accounts in three different coordinated efforts that also included Instagram accounts. The accounts originated in Iran and Russia, Facebook says.

The first group of accounts calls itself Liberty Front Free Press. By following IP addresses and website registration data, Facebook determined the accounts were actually linked to Iranian state media, despite claims that the group is an independent media organization. The network was tipped off to the behavior by FireEye, a cybersecurity company. A second grouping of accounts was removed that had a link to the first and a third set posted political content about the Middle East.

Combined, the three groups had around 983,000 followers across multiple pages and groups. The related accounts on Instagram had about 59,100 users who followed at least one of the three accounts. Some of those accounts took out ads and Facebook says it hasn’t finished going through the organic content. Samples of the content shared by the groups covered topics from U.S. politics and Brexit to immigration.

Facebook says the decision to remove the accounts isn’t always black and white. One of the groups, for example, Facebook has known about for a year. Removing the accounts often means the company can’t get deeper into the investigation to figure out who’s actually behind them, the company explained. The choice on when to remove the inauthentic accounts varies based on factors like the threat and world events — Facebook appears to be removing the accounts now ahead of the midterm elections.

“We ban this kind of behavior because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook,” the announcement reads. “And while we’re making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well-funded. We constantly have to improve to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts, and other companies. Their collaboration was critical to our investigation since no one company can fight this on their own.”

Twitter’s announcement, true to the nature of the micro-blogging platform, was much shorter. In two Tweets, Twitter Safety said it had removed 284 accounts for coordinated manipulation. The network says many of the accounts appeared to originate from Iran. 

The announcements are also evidence of the competing networks working together when it comes to fighting abuse. “As with prior investigations, we are committed to engaging with other companies and relevant law enforcement entities,” Twitter tweeted.

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