Facebook Removes 'Inauthentic' Iranian Accounts Targeting anti-Netanyahu Protests

12 Facebook accounts, two pages and 307 Instagram accounts taken down after sharing content in Hebrew and Arabic about protests in Israel and Iraq

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Facebook on Friday said it has dismantled seven separate networks of fake accounts and pages on its platform that were active in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Myanmar, Georgia, and Ukraine due to "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

The social media platform announced it had taken down the new networks as part of its monthly report into "coordinated inauthentic behaviour", which also noted Facebook had removed nearly 8,000 pages involved in deceptive campaigns around the world in October.

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It said one such case involved 12 Facebook accounts, two pages and 307 Instagram accounts that had shared content in Hebrew and Arabic about protests in both Israel and Iraq.

"This network was early in its audience building when we removed it. The network used fake accounts — most of which were created around the same time — to develop fictitious personas who purported to be based in Israel and Iraq," Facebook said.

Social media analysis firm Graphika, that works with Facebook, detailed how the accounts had shifted from posting about U.S.-Saudi ties, to Israel's mishandling of the coronavirus. Eventually, the report said, the accounts began to focus on the anti-Netanyahu protest movement, pushing out content supportive of the "Black Flag" movement's attempt to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.  

Facebook said the individuals behind the accounts had sought to shield their identities but that it was able to trace them to a Tehran-based IT company. It said the network of fake accounts had around 10,000 followers and was in the early stages of building an audience.

Netanyahu and his supporters seized on the report, saying it proved that Iran supported the aims of his political opponents. The Black Flag movement, one of the main protest groups, accused the prime minister of incitement and called on supporters to attend its next weekly protest on Saturday.

Many of the networks taken down by Facebook were involved in deceptive political influence campaigns using fake accounts, targeting audiences both domestically and abroad.

One network of Facebook accounts and pages was operated from Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco by individuals connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist movement that operates networks of groups across the Middle East. The pages targeted countries across the region and included some terrorism-related content, Facebook said.

Facebook found two "inauthentic" networks in Georgia spreading political content, one of which the platform traced to individuals associated with two political parties.

In Ukraine and Myanmar, the social media giant found that public relations firms were running similar deceptive campaigns on behalf of political parties.

The company has been cracking down on such accounts globally after coming under fire for not developing tools quickly enough to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.

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