How The Islamic Republic Games Social Media
Facebook and Twitter recently announced the removal of over 3,000 fake accounts belonging to ip addresses in the Islamic Republic which had been engaged in the distribution of fake news and general disinformation in both English and in Farsi. What was most interesting about the announcement was the fact that both social media giants have, for the first time, admitted they are seeing themselves on the losing side of this most crucial cyber-battle. In this regard, it’s important to understand how the ayatollahs in Tehran have spent untold amounts of money to game the system in hopes of influencing public opinion.
Ever since the the early 2000’s, when Facebook’s importance as a vessel for distributing targeted news to the masses became apparent, the Islamic regime in Iran has used a three pronged approach in dominating the news. Of course this approach has come with a heavy price tag, one that the regime is willing to accept. To better understand this approach, we need to delve deeper into their modus operandi.
The first prong of this strategy is the employment of thousands of people for its cyber-army whose job is to create tens of thousands of fake accounts on multiple social media platforms, with Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter at the top of the list. This army is controlled by the IRGC’s intelligence service and is dedicated to spreading fake news stories and creating an atmosphere where social media users are segmented into competing groups. This provides the regime with the means to cause disunity towards other segments of the population and it also makes a consensus of opinion regarding any major news story almost impossible to achieve. This tactic has been in use against the Iranian opposition groups since the 2009 uprising because the regime discovered how Twitter was important in spreading the news among the protesters in the streets & reaching the rest of the world about what was happening in the streets of Tehran during that time.
The second prong of this strategy consists of employing hundreds of handsomely paid “analysts” and “academics” whose main responsibility is to fill the air waves and print media with opinion pieces, defending the regime from criticism. These employees also have the responsibility of promoting their pieces in social media. They are also tasked with the responsibility of drowning out opposition opinions in main stream media, often using threats of going to the competition as a tactic in achieving their objectives. This tactic is a favorite of NIAC, the regime’s lobby in Washington, and was used to full effect in creating the JCPOA echo chamber during the nuclear negotiations.
The final prong of this tripod strategy is the use of bots which is a comparatively new tactic. Ever since the 2016 election, opposition groups have found a new voice on social media & the regime has been losing this battle in the front lines. Ever since 2017, the regime has engaged a separate army of troll and bot accounts that have been engaged in creating spam reports on social media platforms in the hopes of limiting the reach of opposition accounts. These armies have been especially busy on Facebook, & Twitter, constantly filing reports on opposition posts & accounts using various forms, from spam reports to hate speech reports (this one is one of their favorites) in the hopes of running off the growing throngs of opposition accounts. This brings us back to Facebook & Twitter’s recent admittance.
Both Facebook & Twitter freely admit to utilizing an automated algorithm based system for removing posts & suspending or banning accounts. They also admit that their algorithms are mainly based on the number of reports that are filed with regards to a post or account.
This is how the IRGC’s bot army has been gaming these social media giants. What is most concerning however, is these giants’ difficult method of protesting a report. This stands in the face of transparency & far from being a beacon of free speech, it is a powerful hindrance to it.
The image is a screenshot from the Facebook of Kabarbin, which is one of the most popular & revered Iranian opposition group news blogs.
The caption that was flagged reads:
The Iranian peoples free money being gobbled up by Code Pink
. These folks are flown first class to Iran, stay in the most luxurious hotels, are fed like pigs, so when they return to the US, they can attack Trump, of course the hair and chest won’t be uncovered like the picture.
Explanation: Code Pink is a leftist & globalist group which is active in the US and their current objective is to be an obstacle to Trump’s path.
Facebook & Twitter’s subversion of free speech cannot & will not stand.