Facebook Shuts Down Iranians Meddling in US Politics

October 28, 2018 Updated: October 28, 2018

Facebook removed 30 pages, 33 accounts, and three groups, as well as 16 Instagram accounts, belonging to Iranians trying to sneakily influence U.S. and UK politics, the social media company announced Oct. 26.

“The Page administrators and account owners typically represented themselves as US citizens, or in a few cases UK citizens—and they posted about politically charged topics such as race relations, opposition to the [U.S.] President, and immigration,” Facebook stated in a release.

“Despite attempts to hide their true identities, a manual review of these accounts linked their activity to Iran.”

At least one of the nixed Facebook pages had more than 1 million followers, while about 25,000 users had joined at least one of the groups. At least one of the scrapped Instagram accounts had more than 28,000 followers.

The Iranians spent less than $100 on Facebook ads and created several events, though it’s unclear if any of the events actually took place.

‘Inauthentic’

The purge was a part of Facebook’s move against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

The company previously described such behavior as “using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names” and “networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing.”

Facebook has been pressured by some lawmakers to take down operations run on its platform by foreign governments trying to influence the American public. The Russian government allegedly ran a Facebook troll farm ahead of the 2016 election focused on intensifying conflicts in American society and sowing discord.

In the most recent case, however, Facebook found no ties to the Iranian government. “We can’t say for sure who is responsible,” it stated.

A Facebook spokesman told The Epoch Times the Iranians “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which violates our policies.”

“The action we took was based on this behavior, not the nature of the content they posted,” he wrote in an email.

Election Purge

Facebook’s targeting of “inauthentic behavior” has drawn criticism as the company also shut down hundreds of accounts and pages of Americans who posted political content. In at least some cases, the affected people didn’t appear to have engaged in any nefarious activity.

Brian Kolfage, an Air Force veteran who lost three limbs in the Iraq War, lost his page, “Right Wing News,” which had more than 3.1 million followers. He ran multiple pages where he and his reporters posted articles with sensational headlines and a mix of news and commentary. He said there was nothing inauthentic about it and that Facebook had never notified him that there was any problem.

He provided emails showing he was actually in regular contact with the company to ensure all his activities passed muster.

‘Chaotic’ Enforcement

Former senior Facebook engineer Brian Amerige said the company’s content rules were “chaotically, almost randomly enforced” and mistakes would be occasionally reversed only after scrutiny from by the media.

Amerige left the company after failed efforts to change what he called a “political monoculture.” He specifically disagreed with Facebook’s insistence on fighting “hate speech.”

He argued defining what is hateful is too subjective to penalize in a principled manner.

“Hate speech can’t be defined consistently and it can’t be implemented reliably, so it ends up being a series of one-off ‘pragmatic’ decisions,” he said.

He eventually reached an impasse with Facebook leadership on this point and decided to quit.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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