Facebook removes 652 pages, groups and accounts linked to Iran, Russia

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The group spent $6,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads that were paid for in United States dollars, Turkish lira, and Indian rupees.

The Kremlin rejected Facebook's accusations.

In Moscow, a government spokesman denied any manipulation campaign, telling journalists, "We don't understand what the basis is" for the accusations.

What just happened? Facebook's long-running battle to keep political influence campaigns from foreign governments off its platform is showing no signs of stopping.

The United States earlier this year indicted 13 Russians for alleged attempts to meddle in U.S. politics, but the latest alleged Iranian activity, revealed by cybersecurity firm FireEye, suggests the problem may be more widespread. Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russian Federation. Facebook said it was able to "link the network to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook Pages sharing the same admins".

These coordinated misinformation campaigns sought to influence people across the globe, from the Middle East to Latin America to the United Kingdom and the U.S. It demonstrates how malicious actors continue to look to Facebook as a platform to spread political propaganda or sew discord.

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Facebook said it will work to bolster safeguards so that it doesn't take in advertising revenue from Iran, which is under USA sanctions.

Some of the accounts originated in Russia, Facebook said. Facebook says it spotted these in August 2017 but expanded its search in July 2018 as part of its focus on influence campaigns ahead of the U.S. 2018 midterm elections.

"However, they used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing", Facebook explains in a detailed blog post.

Facebook said it removed 652 accounts and pages with ties to Iran.

Microsoft announced this week that it had taken down six websites created by notorious Russian hacker group APT28 - also known as Fancy Bear - and that two of the sites were designed to mimic ones from two Washington think tanks that have been critical of Russia, the International Republican Institute and the Hudson Institute.

Facebook has closed down more than 600 accounts and pages due to malicious activity it has linked to the Russian military and Iran in yet more instances of foreign actors infiltrating the social network to spread propaganda.

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Last year, Facebook disclosed that 475 fake accounts traced back to Russian Federation bought more than $100,000 in ads around the time of the 2016 USA election.

In a statement, Facebook said: "Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russian Federation". They collectively hosted 25 events and about 813,000 Facebook users followed at least one of the pages.

The accounts and pages typically posed as news or other organizations which shared information in multiple countries without revealing their true identity. "The accounts used a combination of different hashtags to engage in US culture, including "#lockhimup", "#impeachtrump" and "notmypresident".

Also on Tuesday, Twitter said it identified and removed hundreds of accounts that it had traced to Iran.

Facebook said it removed 254 pages and 392 accounts across its flagship platform as well as its Instagram service.

Aside from the threat from nefarious actors, Facebook's influence as a medium through which American politicians and campaigns communicate with voters has skyrocketed in the last decade.

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