Facebook, Twitter Used to Spread Anti-Israel/Pro-Iran Messages During Midterms

Big Tech companies say Iranian hackers used social media to interfere with the American 2018 midterm election.

A group of anonymous hackers infiltrated social media sites in April 2018 to influence the midterm elections. According to prominent public cybersecurity firm FireEye’s report these fake accounts had a very clear mission to spread “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes.”

Reuters recounted how Lee Foster, a FireEye researcher, claimed that many of these accounts had impersonated American journalists. They “had successfully convinced several U.S. news outlets to publish letters to the editor, guest columns and blog posts.”

“We’re assessing with low confidence that this network was organized to support Iranian political interests,” Foster warned. “However, we’re not at the point where we can say who was doing it or where it’s coming from. The investigation is ongoing.”

The presumed majority of these accounts accounts, mostly on Twitter and Facebook, have since been taken down as of May 9, but the damage they have done is hard to measure. According to Twitter’s Head of Site Security Yoel Roth, the company removed “2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran,” as part of an ongoing investigation. 

Instagram and its parent company Facebook removed “51 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, seven Groups and three Instagram accounts” as part of their cleanup effort, concluding that these bad actors originated in Iran. 

Before the 2018 midterms, this group of election hackers had impersonated Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. 

NBC News obtained a report on Tuesday where FireEye operatives alleged the nature of this subversion. They claimed “in addition to utilizing fake American personas that espoused both progressive and conservative political stances, some accounts impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018."

Reuters’ coverage of the operation observed that “imposter Twitter accounts often plagiarized messages from the politicians’ legitimate accounts, but also mixed in posts voicing support for policies believed to be favorable to Tehran.” Some major political figures that were affected were “Jineea Butler, a Republican candidate for New York’s 13th District, and Marla Livengood, a Republican candidate for California’s 9th District.” 

Both politicians lost the election. Livengood’s campaign appraised the meddling as “clearly an attempt by bad actors” to sabotage the campaign effort and responded that if anything, Livengood was a “a strident opponent of nuclear weapons in Iran.”

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