Foreign interference in US politics has been the world’s worst kept secret over the past couple of years. Coordinated misinformation campaigns and electronic hijacking of private communications have become a staple of the US political scene since 2016. And despite awareness and countermeasures, it seems that the unrelenting trend is going global.
Last Thursday, both Facebook and Twitter announced that they had removed scores of accounts being used for malicious ends. Facebook, on its part, said that the targeted pages, groups, and accounts were engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram.” Meanwhile, Twitter stated that it has actively been blocking ‘foreign information operations’.
The ‘News’ from Iran
Facebook said that the activity originated from Iran, “in some cases repurposing Iranian state media content.” And while the targets were global, the social network noted that the Middle East and South Asia have been particularly targeted.
All in all, Facebook removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts. The statement notes that there were multiple sets of activity, “each localized for a specific country or region, including Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, US, and Yemen.”
The content typically revolved around topics such as Israeli Palestinian relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia in these conflicts.
The Hashtag War
Twitter’s statement said that the scope and size of operations were limited in comparison to 2016 and that the campaigns are likely to have originated from Iran, Venezuela, and Russia. Generally, the campaigns sought to promote three causes: there were around 40,000 tweets with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, 40,000 tweets with the hashtag #MAGA, and 18,000 tweets using the hashtag #IslamIsTheProblem.