The announcement marks the third time this week that a major technology company has shut down abuse of its platform by foreign actors.
Google said it terminated 39 YouTube channels, 13 Google+ accounts and six blogs on Blogger that were linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The YouTube channels reached about 13,466 viewers in the U.S.
“Actors engaged in this type of influence operation violate our policies, and we swiftly remove such content from our services and terminate these actors’ accounts,” wrote Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs.
In this case, Google’s own Threat Analysis Group, working together with the Alphabet-incubated security firm Jigsaw, and independent cybersecurity firm FireEye, to identify the influence operation tied to Iran. FireEye flagged some suspicious Google accounts, which Google said it swiftly disabled. Google said its teams investigated a broader range of suspicious actors tied to Iran, and provided information to U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement.
Earlier this week, Facebook announced it had disabled 652 pages and accounts that had been flagged for “inauthentic behavior,” targeting the Middle East, U.K., Latin America and the U.S. State-owned media in Iran was tied to several of these accounts, spreading anti-Israeli, anti-Saudi and pro-Palestinian themes. Russian propagandists were also involved.
Twitter suspended 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation” which also appeared to have originated from Iran.
“Broadly speaking, the intent behind this activity appears to be to promote Iranian political interests, including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as to promote support for specific U.S. policies favorable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA),” FireEye said in a report published today. “In the context of the U.S.-focused activity, this also includes significant anti-Trump messaging and the alignment of social media personas with an American liberal identity.”
FireEye said it found inauthentic social media personas masquerading as American liberals supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, that were heavily promoting Quds Day, a holiday established by Iran in 1979 to express support for Palestinians and oppose Israel, which takes place on the last day of Ramadan.
“The activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse,” FireEye said in its report. “These operations extend well beyond those conducted by Russia.”
Alex Stamos, an adjunct professor at Stanford University who until recently served as Facebook’s chief security officer, predicted these influence campaigns may be the disturbing new normal — in part because of America’s “sclerotic response” to initial reports of Russia’s misinformation and cyber-warfare campaign.
“The revelations are evidence that Russia has not been deterred and that Iran is following in its footsteps,” Stamos wrote in a post Wednesday on Lawfare, after Facebook reported a fresh round of account deletions. “This underlines a sobering reality: America’s adversaries believe that it is still both safe and effective to attack U.S. democracy using American technologies and the freedoms we cherish.”