Facebook, Twitter delete thousands of “disinformation” accounts without proof
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter announced recently that between them, they had taken down thousands of accounts they claimed were connected to “attempted influence campaigns” by Iran, Venezuela and Russia. However, their ability to prove those claims is questionable at best.
Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a blog post Thursday that the company had removed a total of 783 pages, groups and accounts for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” tied to Iran: 262 pages, 356 accounts and three groups, as well as 162 accounts on Instagram. The pages together paid for about $30,000 worth of ads, hosted eight events and had a combined “reach” of about 2 million people who had liked at least one of the accounts, he said.
However, Gleicher later told reporters on a conference call that Facebook couldn’t actually tie any of the activity to the Iranian government. In his blog post, Gleicher explained that the so-called fake pages promoted misinformation and “misrepresented themselves” as locals, sharing material from Iran’s state media organs about local issues.
“We can prove and feel confident that this is content emanating from Iran, controlled by actors in Iran,” he told reporters, having also noted in the blog that much of the information was about “Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia.”
In other words, Facebook seems to have decided that the only people who would share news or other stories from Iranian state media, especially ones that question the role of Western powers and their allies in the Middle East, are surreptitious actors in coordination with the Iranian government, even though Facebook has not furnished evidence demonstrating this to be the case.
Let’s not forget the essential role that the NATO-funded Atlantic Council has played in helping Facebook to crunch the data. We saw the Atlantic Council’s handiwork in Facebook’s takedown of hundreds of Sputnik pages and accounts of its employees across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia earlier this month, for which they cited many of the same reasons: it’s somehow suspicious for state media to have meaning for locals or for employees of state media to want to promote their home cultures.
But wait, there’s more. Twitter also took down 2,617 accounts Thursday it claims were connected to Iran. The two social media giants coordinated their efforts, Facebook’s cybersecurity chief confirmed Thursday.
Twitter’s Yoel Roth, head of site integrity, noted in a blog post that the company’s efforts to uncover Iranian “malicious activity” on its platform began in August 2018 following a tip by “an industry peer,” but if we rewind to that time and recall the basis of that investigation, we find ourselves in a familiar scenario.
“The Iranian networks were not alleged to be necessarily the product of state-backed operations, but of course the implication is there and not at all unreasonable,” TechCrunch wrote at the time.
Things are no better now, with Thursday’s statement saying “we believe [the accounts] may have origins in Iran.”
Twitter took down many more accounts Thursday, and its justification should by now be familiar. From Russia, 418 accounts came down, but although Twitter “cannot render definitive attribution to the IRA [Internet Research Agency] for these accounts… much of the behavior mimics the activity of prior accounts tied to the IRA.”
In Venezuela, 1,960 accounts were disabled by Twitter — but again, the company came up short on evidence to justify their claims. The accounts are split into two groups: 764 accounts for which the company is “unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country,” and 1,196 accounts “which appear to be engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences.”
It’s incredible (literally, it’s not credible) that social media companies are capable of detecting these vast disinformation campaigns coincidentally always based in countries the US government and military-industrial complex have deemed are adversaries of the US, and yet they seem incapable of uncovering real, actual coordinated disinformation campaigns originating on US soil.
Sputnik has reported on the revelations that there were at least two coordinated disinformation campaigns waged by Democrats and Democratic supporters in the run-up to Alabama’s December 12, 2017, special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ empty US Senate seat. Those two known campaigns spent more money in the two weeks prior to the special election than Facebook and Twitter have claimed the IRA expended in the two-year period prior to the US 2016 presidential election, and saw Americans from one party posing as members of another party, complete with fake pages, news and events, in order to convince Alabama voters to change their ballot marks.