Facebook uncovers anti-Israeli pages from Iran
The social network says it identified and banned hundreds of accounts, groups and pages engaged in misleading political behavior, spreading disinformation and influencing US foreign policy and regional politics in Middle East; The content posted includes an anti-Israeli caricature in which a soldier is seen shooting a Palestinian woman at point-blank.
The social network said Tuesday that it had removed 652 pages, groups, and accounts linked to Iran, for "coordinated inauthentic behavior" that included the spreading of political material in the United States, England, Latin America and the Middle East. Following the announcement, the social network unveiled some of the materials posted on these pages, which included anti-Israeli propaganda.
The social network said it had not concluded its review of the material and has informed the US and UK governments as well as the US Treasury and State departments about these materials.
"There's a lot we don't know yet," Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said on a hastily called conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "You're going to see people try to abuse the services in every way possible ... including now nation states," he said. He described the deception campaigns as "sophisticated and well-funded efforts that aren't going to stop."
Among the material, Facebook exposed anti-Israeli content, as seen in a caricature depicting an Israeli soldier shooting at a Palestinian woman at point-blank, above the head of someone who resembles an Arab ruler. A message posted below the caricature reads: "A closer look at #Palestine, yes, all the disasters in the region was caused by the silence of the Arab rulers."
Another post published by the same page, shows a picture of Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, a double amputee Palestinian who was killed during a violent protest near the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip in mid December.
The picture was posted with the following caption: "Ibrahim Abu Thuraya is now a name and a legend in the Palestine Liberation Movement.First of all, he lost his legs in Israel's aggressive attack on Gaza, and today he was murdered in cold blood by an Israeli soldier by a shot to the head. He used to protest the occupation by all possible means."
Facebook also unveiled a post published by the Progressive Front page. The post included a picture of Michelle Obama holding a sign reading "An immigrant took my job."
"The Iranians are now following the Kremlin's playbook," said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that alerted Facebook to some of this activity, noted that it "does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the 2018 US midterm elections, as it extends well beyond US. audiences and US politics."
Facebook said its latest action on Tuesday morning resulted from four investigations — three involving Iran, one involving Russia.
The first focused on a group called "Liberty Front Press" that set up multiple accounts on Facebook and Instagram that were followed by 155,000 other accounts. The group was linked to Iranian state media based on website registrations, IP addresses and administrator accounts, Facebook said. The first accounts FireEye called the Liberty Front Press group an influence operation apparently aimed at promoting Iranian political interests "including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes" and support for the US-Iran nuclear deal.
While that group did not appear to be attempting to influence the US midterms, FireEye said its analysis "does not preclude such attempts being made." Several social media personas it found related to the group masqueraded as liberal US activists who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders. One persona also used the Twitter handle "@berniecratss" and listed its location as the United States even though the phone number associated with it began with Iran's country code, +98.
The group's activity included "significant anti-Trump messaging," but FireEye said in a detailed report "the activity extends well beyond US audiences and US politics."
The second group also had multiple accounts and 15,000 followers. The group was linked to "Liberty Front Press" and attempted to hack people's accounts to spread malware. Facebook said it disrupted those attempts.
A third group also operated out of Iran had as many as 813,000 followers, and also shared political content about the Middle East, the U.K. and U.S.
In all the Iranian-linked groups spent some $12,000 in advertising and hosted 28 different events.
A fourth group that attempted to influence politics in Syria and the Ukraine was connected to sources that Facebook said the U.S. had linked to Russian military intelligence.
"We're working closely with U.S. law enforcement on this investigation," Facebook said in a blog post.
Facebook has significantly stepped up policing of its platform since last year, when it acknowledged that Russian agents successfully ran political influence operations on its platform that were aimed at swaying the 2016 presidential election. Other social media networks have done likewise, and continue to turn up fresh evidence of political disinformation campaigns.
In late July, Facebook also removed 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram that collectively had nearly 300,000 followers, including thousands that expressed interest in events they promoted.