By: Denise Simon | Founders Code
When traveling Internet sites, social media accounts and various news aggregator services, one needs to be even more suspect of what information is out there. Russia has been applying propaganda ‘active measure’ tactics for decades and due to the global Internet system, the volume has gone beyond measure.
With all things Russia going on in Washington, DC and in the media, the success of active measures has been noticed by both China and Iran. Both have launched robust propaganda operations forcing the West and citizens to question the authenticity of sites, articles, and posts of all forms.
Watch out for those hashtags… influencing voters and fake/false news goes back to at least 2016. The operations are so effective that even big media has been duped and corrections are printed or made often when recognized. Some items are never corrected.
Google has also removed 39 YouTube channels and six blogs on Blogger and 13 Google+ accounts.
“Our investigations on these topics are ongoing and we will continue to share our findings with law enforcement and other relevant government entities in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Google said in a blog post here
Google, which had engaged cyber-security firm FireEye Inc (FEYE.O) to provide the company with intelligence, said it has detected and blocked attempts by “state-sponsored actors” in recent months.
FireEye said here it has suspected “influence operation” that appears to originate from Iran, aimed at audiences in the United States, the U.K., Latin America, and the Middle East.
Shares of FireEye rose as much as 10 percent to $16.38 after Google identified the company as a consultant.
The Daily Beast went for a deeper dive on the tactics by Iran and explained a few cases:
An Iranian propaganda campaign created fake Bernie Sanders supporters online, Facebook disclosed Tuesday.
In a press release, the social-media giant said it had removed 652 pages associated with political-influence campaigns traced to Iran, including coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, U.K., and U.S.”
The cybersecurity company FireEye, which first alerted Facebook to the influence campaign months ago, wrote in a separate posting on its site that it had traced the campaign—including posts from supposed “American liberals supportive of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders”—to Iran through email addresses and phone numbers associated with the “inauthentic” accounts.
The investigation began with FireEye’s discovery of a fake U.S. news outlet called Liberty Front Press, which Facebook says was created in 2013. The actors behind that site over time branched out into different personas intended to appeal to different audiences including “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes.” Examples included accounts like The British Left, which published content in support of U.K. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the pro-Palestinian Patriotic Palestinian Front. FireEye also says it “identified multiple Arabic-language, Middle East-focused sites” as part of the effort.
Unlike the Russian cyberinfluence campaign in 2016, FireEye didn’t find a complementary hacking campaign attached to the propaganda activity. Iran has spent big on developing its offensive online capabilities, but FireEye said it found no links to APT35—a hacking group that has targeted U.S. defense companies and Saudi energy firms. Instead, the security firm found links between the campaign and Iran’s state-run TV propaganda channel, PressTV.
The Iranian actors behind the campaign expanded beyond Facebook and Instagram and onto Twitter, according to FireEye. In a separate statement late Tuesday, Twitter announced it had suspended 284 accounts for what it said was “coordinated manipulation” and that “it appears many of these accounts originated from Iran.”
The Daily Beast recovered tweets from what appears to be an account associated with the campaign. @libertyfrontpr has since been deleted, but Google cache results show it linked back to the LibertyFrontPress.com website FireEye attributed to be part of the propaganda effort. The account was active as of at least Tuesday and is not listed as suspended on the platform.
The account used hashtags like “#Resist” and #NotMyPresident when tweeting out anti-Trump sentiments. It also weighed in against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. “The #Senate has a responsibility to reject any nominee who would fail to be a fair-minded constitutionalist. That is #BrettKavanaugh. We must #StopKavanaugh.”
In a rare move for Holocaust-denying Iranian propaganda, @libertypr slammed the Republican Party for allowing anti-Semite and Holocaust denier John Fitzgerald to run for a seat in the California legislature.
In addition to the U.S. themes, Liberty’s Twitter account also targeted opponents of the Iranian government, including the Mujahedeen Khalq exile group, or MEK, which advocates the overthrow of Iran’s clerical government, with hashtags like “#BanTerrorOrg.”
The takedown marks the second time since the 2016 election that Facebook has appeared to act without U.S. government pressure to stop an alleged political-influence campaign. In late July, Facebook took down a handful of sock-puppet accounts purporting to be black, Hispanic, and #Resistance activists. Facebook didn’t attribute that campaign to a specific country or group, but it did note that some of the accounts had links to the infamous Russian Internet Research Agency troll farm.
Facebook said Tuesday that it had taken down the new batch of pages only after waiting “many months” after being alerted to the campaign by FireEye. The delay allowed the company to further investigate the campaign and improve its defenses against future efforts.