Iran’s new Facebook trolls are using Russia’s Playbook | Social Media

On Friday,  shut down another network of 82 accounts, pages, and groups that have been posing as US and UK citizens since 2016. The network, which says originated in Iran, has spread memes, articles, and other posts about political topics including race relations, the upcoming midterm election in the US, and the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It also hosted seven events.

What distinguishes this latest group, which Facebooks says it discovered a week ago, from the Iranian propaganda network that tech giants shut down this past summer are the striking similarities between its campaign and the one the Russians mounted before the 2016 election.

Rather than focusing on the Iranian regime’s agenda at home, the new network focused squarely on American and British politics. As it turns out, that may be a more successful strategy: While the network discovered this summer had just around 200,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram, this latest batch had more than one million.

“This content appeared consistent with what we’ve seen in other major operations,” Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said on a call with reporters Friday. “It was targeting broad division. It was sowing discord and targeting socially divisive issues.”

In August, Facebook, Twitter, and Google suspended an expansive web of phony social media accounts and websites linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, a state-owned news network. Those pages and accounts, which were first spotted by the cybersecurity firm FireEye, posed as ordinary citizens as well as journalists and news organizations that advocated for policies explicitly favoring Iran.

This latest batch took a different tack. While there was some anti-Saudi and anti-Israeli content sprinkled throughout, the accounts and pages mostly pretended to be American liberals, and they posted divisive content about American politics, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, which is working with Facebook to dissect the operation.

Unlike this summer’s batch, Facebook says it has no indication yet that the most recent network is linked to the Iranian government.

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