Tuesday January 22, 2019
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82 Iran-Linked Facebook Accounts Deleted

The analysts said many of the posts also contained errors that gave away their non-U.S. origins.

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An Iranian man surfs the Internet at a cafe in Tehran, Iran, Sept, 17, 2013. Facebook says it has removed 82 Iran-linked accounts for spreading misinformation. VOA

Facebook announced Friday that it has removed 82 accounts, pages or groups from its site and Instagram that originated in Iran, with some of the account owners posing as residents of the United States or Britain and tweeting about liberal politics.

At least one of the Facebook pages had more than one million followers, the firm said. The company said it did not know if the coordinated behavior was tied to the Iranian government. Less than $100 in advertising on Facebook and Instagram was spent to amplify the posts, the firm said.

The company said in a post titled “Taking Down Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior from Iran” that some of the accounts and pages were tied to ones taken down in August.

“Today we removed multiple pages, groups and accounts that originated in Iran for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram,” the firm said. “This is when people or organizations create networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing.”

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Iranians surf the internet at a cafe in Tehran, Iran, Sept, 17, 2013. In Iran, a government push for a ‘halal’ internet means more control after protests.. VOA

Monitoring online activity

Facebook says it has ramped up its monitoring of the authenticity of accounts in the runup to the U.S. midterm election, with more than 20,000 people working on safety and security. The social media firm says it has created an election “war room” on the campus to monitor behavior it deems “inauthentic.”

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy for Facebook, said that the behavior was coordinated and originated in Iran.

The posts appeared as if they were being made by citizens in the United States and in a few cases, in Britain. The posts were of “politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the president, and immigration.”

In terms of the reach of the posts, “about 1.02 million accounts followed at least one of these Pages, about 25,000 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and more than 28,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.”

A more advanced approach

The company released some images related to the accounts.

An analysis of 10 Facebook pages and 14 Instagram accounts by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab concluded the pages and accounts were newer, and more advanced, than another batch of Iranian-linked pages and accounts that were removed in August.

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A protester wearing a mask with the face of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is flanked by two fellow activists wearing angry face emoji masks, during a protest against Facebook policies, in London, Britain (From archives) VOA

“These assets were designed to engage in, rather than around, the political dialogue,” the lab’s Ben Nimmo and Graham Brookie wrote. “Their behavior showed how much they had adapted from earlier operations, focusing more on social media than third party websites.”

And those behind the accounts appeared to have learned a lesson from Russia’s ongoing influence campaign.

“One main aim of the Iranian group of accounts was to inflame America’s partisan divides,” the analysis said. “The tone of the comments added to the posts suggests that this had some success.”

Targeting U.S. midterm voters

Some of the accounts and pages directly targeted the upcoming U.S. elections, showing individuals talking about how they voted or calling on others to vote.

Most were aimed at a liberal audience.

“Proud to say that my first ever vote was for @BetoORourke,” said one post from an account called “No racism no war,” which had 412,000 likes and about half a million followers.

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Michael Steele, then-Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, announces that he is dropping his re-election bid, Jan. 14, 2011, during the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

“Get your ass out and VOTE!!! Do your part,” said another post shared by the same account.

U.S. intelligence and national security officials have repeatedly warned of efforts by countries like Iran and China, in addition to Russia, to influence and interfere with U.S. elections next month and in 2020.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who is a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Facebook’s decision to pull down the questionable pages and accounts and share the information with the public is critical to “keeping users aware of and inoculated against such foreign influence campaigns.”

“Facebook’s discovery and exposure of additional nefarious Iranian activity on its platforms so close to the midterms is an important reminder that both the public and private sector have a shared responsibility to remain vigilant as foreign entities continue their attempts to influence our political dialogue online,” Schiff said in a statement.

But not all the Iranian material was focused on the U.S. midterm election.

Also Read: Here’s How Facebook Identifies ‘Inauthentic Behaviour’

“These accounts masqueraded primarily as American liberals, posting only small amounts of anti-Saudi and anti-Israeli content,” the Digital Forensic Research Lab said.

A number of posts also took aim at U.S. policy in the Middle East in general. One post by @sut_racism, accused Ivanka Trump of having “the blood of Dead Children on Her Hands.”

Still, the analysts said many of the posts also contained errors that gave away their non-U.S. origins. For example, in one post talking about the deaths of U.S. soldiers in World War II, the account’s authors used a photo of Soviet soldiers. (VOA)

Next Story

The Great U.S. Government Shutdown

The Senate stands at an impasse while the nation collapses around it.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen beyond a chain fence during the partial government shutdown in Washington, Jan. 8, 2019. VOA

By Vishvi Gupta

The partial shutdown of the Government of the United States has now entered Day 31. With as many as 800,000 federal employees furloughed, the entire nation remains in a turmoil due to the longest government shutdown in the history of United States.

The shutdown which started on December 22 of 2018, due to the disagreement of United States Congress and the President Of United States on ‘Border Security Funding’  has followed us well into 2019 and still has bleak chances of ending.

President Donald Trump remains undeterred in his conquest to get the funding for wall, no matter who pays for it, it seems. In a tweet and several different speeches, during the presidential election race of 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that “Mexico will pay for the wall”. However, he now demands almost $5Bn from the taxpayers of the country.

The country’s senate remains at an impasse and the only ones affected? The people.

Thousands of federal employees joined hands in protests and social media to share their stories of how exactly the shutdown is affecting them. Many employees have had to set up Gofundme donation websites to get by or to meet their basic needs. The shutdown led the hastag, ‘#ShutdownStories’ trend on twitter. Even students who rely on free or reduced fee meals at school are impacted. The lunch menus at schools are being revised so as to conserve food and funding.

As the shutdown drags on, it sees many businesses also take a hit. Mohammad Badah, a local falafel street vendors who saw a steep fall in his sales said,” Usually I do in this area, like 60-70 customers, so far I did like 19 customers today.” Badah can now afford to operate only one of his two trucks.

Also Read: U.S. Senate Stays Divided Over Trump’s Immigration Deal

Meanwhile, there is no budging on the democratic or republican side. President Donald Trump proposed a deal to the democrats in which he backs away from a simple demand for border funding and now offers a 3 year extension of the program for refugees and immigrants who came to America illegally as minors, also called ‘Dreamers.’ Democrats, however rejected this deal saying that Donald Trump’s proposal is “unacceptable” and said the president’s proposal was “not a good-faith effort.”

The Senate stands at an impasse while the nation collapses around it.