07 Apr 2021 10:15:45 AM IST
Facebook said Tuesday it deleted hundreds of fake accounts linked to an Iranian exile group and a troll farm in Albania. The reports published material criticizing the Iranian government and supporting Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a faction called MEK. In many cases, Facebook and Instagram accounts used fake profile names and photos.
Facebook found that the accounts were managed from a single location in Albania by a group of people working on behalf of the PMOI. Facebook found other tell-tale clues about a so-called troll farm, where workers are often paid to post content, including disinformation, on social media. Facebook says it removes these accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post.
On the one hand, researchers found that activity appeared to follow the work day in Central Europe, with shifts resuming after 9 a.m., slowing down at the end of the day, and a noticeable break in work time. However, Facebook said it found no evidence that people were getting paid.
“Even trolls need to eat,” said Ben Nimmo, who works on Global Intelligence Investigations into the threats to Facebook, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran, an umbrella organization that includes the PMOI, said in a statement that no accounts associated with it or the PMOI had been deleted. The group also denied the existence of an Albanian troll farm affiliated with the PMOI.
MEK is a leading group against the Iranian government. It killed Americans before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012. Still, American politicians from both parties, including Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, have made paid speeches to WIPO in the past.
The fake account network was most active in 2017 and late 2020, Facebook said. In total, more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and Instagram were deleted as part of the company’s campaign. Approximately 112,000 people have followed one or more Instagram accounts.
In some cases, the fake reports used photos of Iranian celebrities or deceased dissidents. A small number of the newer Instagram accounts appear to have used computer generated profile photos.
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