Facebook and Twitter Purge Hundreds of Fake Accounts Linked to Russia, Iran, and Venezuela

By Catie Keck on at

Twitter and Facebook both announced on Thursday that they’ve recently removed hundreds of accounts tied to misinformation campaigns with links to Russia, Venezuela, and Iran. Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a call with reporters that the companies were able to identify bad actors on their respective platforms through ongoing information-swapping, the Hill reported Thursday.

Gleicher wrote in a blog post that Facebook removed nearly 800 accounts, Pages, and Groups in the purge, including 162 Instagram accounts. These Pages and accounts targeted people of specific regions or countries primarily in South Asia and the Middle East, though the U.S. was reportedly a target of the efforts as well.

“The Page administrators and account owners typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events,” Gleicher said. “This included commentary that repurposed Iranian state media’s reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.”

Gleicher added that some of the accounts Facebook removed were linked to an ongoing probe into Iranian misinformation campaigns that it initially discovered last year, when it booted a combined 82 Groups, accounts, and Pages after it learned bad actors were similarly posing as UK and U.S. citizens and distributing politically polarising content.

Separate from the Iranian misinformation efforts announced this week, Facebook said earlier this month that it had taken action against 364 accounts and Pages originating in Russia and announced similar action against efforts originating in Bangladesh in December.

Twitter also announced on Thursday that it’s taken action against hundreds of accounts linked to malicious activity specifically originating in Russia, Iran, Venezuela, as well as “a very small number of accounts” in Bangladesh, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity Yoel Roth wrote in a blog post Thursday.

The company has removed some 2,617 accounts linked to Iran since it initially became aware of misinformation efforts in August. It’s also removed more than 400 accounts linked to Russia, as well as nearly 1,200 in Venezuela that Roth said may be tied to a “state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences.” Investigations into the efforts are reportedly ongoing, as are communication channels between Twitter and Facebook.

“Twitter has been in close contact with our industry peers on this matter and shared detailed information with them about the malicious accounts,” Roth said. “This multilateral process of information-sharing will continue, enabling us and our industry peers to work together to better understand and identify malicious activity.” [Facebook, Twitter]

Justin Sullivan (Getty)