Facebook removes propaganda networks in Sudan and Iran

DUBAI: Facebook has removed two networks linked to military organizations in Sudan and Iran for violating its policies.

The company shared details about the accounts in its September 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report.

The report comes on the heels of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US Senate Committee.

Haugen said although only 9 percent of Facebook users are English speakers, 87 percent of misinformation spending is dedicated to English speakers. This is especially problematic considering the high usage of Facebook in non-English speaking countries such as India, Sudan, Iran, and Ethiopia among others.

The new report reveals that in Sudan, Facebook removed 116 pages, 666 Facebook accounts, 69 groups and 92 Instagram accounts, that targeted domestic audiences in the country. “We found this activity as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region and linked it to the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group operated by the Sudanese government,” the report stated.

These pages, accounts and groups violated Facebook’s policy against foreign or government interference. According to the company’s investigation, the network originated in Sudan and used fake accounts to manage groups and pages, often posting, commenting and reacting to their own content to make it appear more popular than it was.

These fake accounts and pages were set up to resemble independent news entities, freelancers, journalists and students in Sudan, while some even used celebrity photos as their profile pictures. In addition to organic content, the accounts also spent around $200 in adverts on Facebook and Instagram.

In Iran, the company removed 93 Facebook accounts, 14 pages, 15 groups and 194 Instagram accounts that targeted primarily domestic audiences in that country, particularly in the Lorestan province. “We found this activity as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region and linked it to individuals associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” according to the report.

The fake accounts mainly used Instagram posting as local news outlets. Some accounts also posed as Kurds, including young Kurdish women, and others purported to be supporters of an exiled militant opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq in an apparent attempt to build audiences among these different communities, according to the report.

The network also purchased fake followers for its accounts to make them appear more popular than they were. The fake accounts posted primarily in Farsi about local news and current events in Lorestan, including encouraging voter turnout in the 2020 Iranian elections and criticizing MEK, the Kurdish nationalist movement, the US and Saudi Arabia. They also re-posted content related to Iranian state media and government officials.

“We monitor for efforts to re-establish a presence on Facebook by networks we previously removed. Using both automated and manual detection, we continuously remove accounts and pages connected to networks we took down in the past,” Facebook said in the report.

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