Republican politicians were impersonated and columns were published in mainstream news outlets as part of a misinformation campaign in support of Iran, according to a new report released on Tuesday, prompting Twitter and Facebook to take down some accounts, Financial Times reported.
The campaign used new tactics that leveraged both social and traditional media in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections, according to FireEye, the cyber security firm that discovered the campaign.
This included the creation of fake personas that had columns, letters and opinion articles published in the U.S. and Israeli media, including the Times of Israel and the Los Angeles Times. FireEye discovered Twitter profiles impersonating Republican congressional candidates, such as Marla Livengood in California and Jineea Butler in New York.
“What we’re seeing is an amalgamation of different tactics and techniques – online and offline – being blended together,” said Lee Foster, senior manager of information operations analysis at FireEye’s intelligence unit.
The content centred around support for the Iran nuclear deal, as well as anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian material, the cyber security company said. Another narrative was opposition to the decision by the Trump administration to label Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, it said.
Social media companies face growing pressure to better thwart the spread of misinformation ahead of the 2020 presidential election, after evidence emerged of attempts by Russia to interfere in the US 2016 election using Twitter and Facebook, FT adds.
A spokesperson at Twitter said that the social media network had taken down 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran in early May, but that its investigation was “ongoing” and would make further disclosures once its review was complete.
The spokesperson said that FireEye had not shared its report and insights ahead of publication, adding that this was “outside standard, responsible industry norms.”
Separately, Facebook also put out a statement saying that it had removed just under 100 accounts, pages and groups on its network originating from Iran, following a tip from FireEye.