Analysis by PMOI/MEK
Iran, January 23, 2020—Last week, social media giant Instagram removed posts that glorified Qassem Soleimani, the now-dead terrorist-in-chief of the Iranian regime, which was sanctioned by the U.S. because of his affiliation with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and his pivotal role in spreading terror across the world.
The move was met with vitriolic attacks by Iranian regime officials and media, including a piece titled “Why has the media assassination of Haj Qassem remained without answer?” published in Keyhan, the mouthpiece of Iranian regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
Interestingly, Keyhan seems to forget that advertising violence and terrorism and their perpetrators is not allowed on social media networks. The Iranian regime expects all international platforms to be in service of their terrorist and fundamentalist propaganda.
Keyhan wrote: “Networks such as Instagram, Twitter and Telegram were supposed to help spread our voices across the world. But now, what we witness is that not only we’re unable to express our condolences to friends across the world and inside Iran, but we can’t even send a simple picture to a person standing one meter away from us. The leaders of Instagram have sanctioned us.”
Interestingly, while Keyhan named three social media platforms, it failed to mention that two of them (Telegram and Twitter) are banned in Iran. So, while the regime censors the internet and restricts the Iranian people’s communications, it criticizes Instagram for shutting down its terrorist propaganda.
Tehran’s record of spreading propaganda and fake news on social media
The Iranian regime has a long history of using social media networks and applications to promote its narrative and propaganda online. It has created a huge amount of fake social media accounts, news websites and blogs to undermine nationwide protests and the Iranian opposition.
In October 2018, Twitter release a trove of 10 million tweets, one million of which were posted by 770 troll accounts that were supporting the Iranian regime. Twitter had previously suspended many Iran-backed accounts for engaging in online manipulation.
Working with our industry peers today, we have suspended 284 accounts from Twitter for engaging in coordinated manipulation. Based on our existing analysis, it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) August 22, 2018
A few months earlier, Facebook had shut down 652 Iran-backed accounts that were actively engaged in the spread of misinformation. “Today we removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russia,” Facebook declared in an announcement. “We ban this kind of behavior because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook.”
Around the same time, Google shut down dozens of YouTube channels that were linked to an influence operation run by Iran's state broadcaster. The accounts, which were numbered at 58, were run by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, said.
"We identified and terminated a number of accounts linked to the IRIB organization that disguised their connection to this effort, including while sharing English-language political content in the U.S.," Walker wrote in a blog post.
IRIB is closely tied to the IRGC and other sanctioned entities.
In May 2019, Facebook and Twitter suspended accounts used in an Iran-based social media campaign to sway public opinion by impersonating reporters, politicians and others. Facebook removed 51 accounts, 36 pages and seven groups from the social network and another three from Instagram after investigating a tip from internet security firm FireEye.
Twitter removed a network of 2,800 accounts originating in Iran in early May.
A network of English-language social media accounts misrepresenting who was behind them was evidently orchestrated to promote the Iranian regime’s interests, FireEye disclosed.
"In addition to utilizing fake American personas that espoused both progressive and conservative political stances, some accounts impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018," FireEye said in a blog post.
Impersonating reporters and politicians
More recently, the IRGC was involved in impersonating politicians of other countries to carry out its goals against the Iranian opposition. In July 2019, the Iranian regime created a fake account under the name of the French consul general in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, and claimed that Iranian opposition president Maryam Rajavi had secretly traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli authorities. Twitter shut down the account after Cochard reported it as impersonation and denied the fake report.
In January this year, the regime again impersonated a New York Post reporter on Twitter and used the account to spread propaganda and fake stories and attack the Iranian opposition.
“Iran has readily embraced the use of online information operations to support its geopolitical objectives over the past few years, and has refined a vast array of tactics and sophisticated methods that it continues to hone and leverage today,” Lee Foster, a senior manager for FireEye Intelligence’s information operations analysis shop, said in this regard. “The U.S. should expect that Iranian influence efforts surrounding the U.S. will increase over the coming days or weeks as political developments evolve.”