Twitter releases new trove of banned Iranian propaganda
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Social media giant Twitter last week released a new archive of state-backed propaganda from accounts it has banned, with the majority based in Iran.
The June 13 release was the firm's third such archive, representing more than 30 million tweets and a terabyte of media data from just under 5,000 suspected accounts.
Those accounts included 4,779 that Twitter believes "are associated with -- or directly backed by -- the Iranian government."
Some 1,666 of the accounts originating in Iran cumulatively tweeted almost 2 million times on global news content, often with an angle that benefited the diplomatic and geo-strategic views of the Iranian regime, according to Twitter on June 13.
Another set of 248 accounts originating in Iran were more directly engaged with discussions related specifically to Israel.
A third set of 2,865 accounts employed a range of false personae to target conversations about political and social issues in Iran as well as globally.
"When we have significant evidence to indicate that state-affiliated entities are knowingly trying to manipulate and distort the public conversation, we believe it should be disclosed as a matter of public interest," Roth said.
"People and organisations with the advantages of institutional power and which consciously abuse our service are not advancing healthy discourse but are actively working to undermine it. This is a violation of our company principles, policies, and overarching mission to serve the public discourse," he said.
Targeting Afghanistan and Pakistan
The Twitter archive is the latest evidence of the Iranian regime's subterfuges on international social media networks.
Facebook earlier this year removed 783 pages, groups and accounts tied to an Iranian disinformation operation that targeted dozens of countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The "inauthentic behaviour" included 262 pages, 356 accounts and three groups on Facebook, and 162 accounts on Instagram, Facebook announced on January 31.
The pages were part of a campaign to promote the Iranian regime's interests in various countries by creating fake Facebook or Instagram identities, said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, at the time.
One example presented by Facebook showed fake news claiming that the Taliban rescued survivors of a "snow collapse" in Afghanistan.
Also in a special report late last year, Reuters identified more than 70 websites that push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, including three disinformation websites in Pakistan and four in Afghanistan.
Russia's 'troll factory'
Twitter has previously targeted malign Russian influence, and the most recent archive contained four more accounts that the firm believes were associated with the Internet Research Agency.
The St. Petersburg-based "troll factory" has been accused of working with Russian intelligence.
Investigations into the Russian agency also led Twitter's security team to 33 more accounts linked to a previously known group of 764 Venezuelan fake users.
"Our further analysis suggests that they were operated by a commercial entity originating in Venezuela," the post said.
"We believe the public and research community are better informed by transparency," Roth said.