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Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. said Tuesday that they have removed a number of accounts linked to an ongoing Iran-backed campaign to disseminate misleading content in the U.S. and other countries.

In a blog post, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said 51 Facebook accounts had been removed, as well as 36 Pages, seven Groups and three Instagram accounts. They were said to have originated in Iran and were involved with “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Gelicher said all of the purged accounts and pages were misleading people into thinking they were from the U.S. or Europe and sometimes impersonated media organizations from the Middle East.

“The individuals behind this activity also represented themselves as journalists or other personas and tried to contact policymakers, reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents and other public figures,” said Gleicher. “A number of these account owners also attempted to contact authentic Instagram accounts, some of which later posted content associated with this activity.”

The U.S. and U.K. were part of the campaign, focusing on politics and public figures, but politics and issues in the Middle East were also part of the campaign. Facebook said the cull came after a tip from U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc.

FireEye said in a blog post that it had spotted such inauthentic accounts posting content in support of Iranian political interests. Sometimes the accounts would pose as American personas and on occasion actual American politicians were impersonated.

“Personas in this network have also had material published in U.S. and Israeli media outlets, attempted to lobby journalists to cover specific topics, and appear to have orchestrated audio and video interviews with U.S. and U.K.-based individuals on political issues,” FireEye wrote.

The network also used Twitter, and it was found that Republican political candidates who ran for House seats in the 2018 midterms were impersonated. “These accounts appropriated the candidates’ photographs and, in some cases, plagiarized tweets from the real individuals’ accounts,” said FireEye.

Twitter said its investigation is ongoing, but since the beginning of May it has already removed 2,800 inauthentic accounts thought to have originated in Iran. Twitter, it seems, was upset with FireEye for publishing its investigation before it shared “information or insights with Twitter.” The company said it would publish its own investigation once it was finished.

Image: Blondinrikard Fröberg/Flickr

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