Facebook removes hundreds more fake accounts targeting UK politics

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Facebook has removed hundreds of pages, groups and profiles linked to Iran which posed as news organisations or grassroots activists in the UK and the English-speaking world.

An internal investigation by the world’s biggest social network found four groups across Facebook and Instagram which spent thousands of pounds on advertising and had hundreds of thousands of followers.

The activity, some of which dates back to 2011, included spreading political messages and attempting to hack other people’s accounts or spread malware, according to Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.

Screenshots of Facebook Pages called the British left make joes about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn
Facebook says a Page called The British Left was linked to Iran state media (Facebook/PA)

Separate activity from Russia which targeted politics in Syria and Ukraine was also removed, he said.

Pages called The British Left and Free Scotland 2014 shared posts about Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, Boris Johnson and the Queen while others discussed Donald Trump’s presidency and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on a hastily called conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

Cybersecurity firm FireEye first alerted Facebook to a network of pages operating under the name Liberty Front Press and posing as “news and civil society organisations”.

Mr Gleischer said website data linked 74 pages, 70 accounts and three groups which targeted UK and US politics on Facebook, as well as 76 Instagram accounts, to Iran’s state media.

These pages hosted three events and spent more than 6,000 dollars (£4,666) in advertising, he said, although he gave no details about the events and adverts or what would happen to the money paid to Facebook for promotion.

“About 155,000 accounts followed at least one of these pages, 2,300 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and more than 48,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts,” he said.

Screenshots of two posts from inauthentic Facebook Pages featuring Steve Bannon, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh
Another Facebook Page linked to Iran state media, Free Scotland 2014, targeted the Conservative party and Royal Family. (Facebook/PA)

The oldest network was created in 2011 and largely posted about Middle East politics in Arabic and Farsi but also shared content in the UK and US, including the page Free Scotland 2014.

The network spent more more 6,000 dollars in advertising on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in US dollars, Turkish lira and Indian rupees between July 2012 and April 2018.

Facebook said it was still investigating the networks and had shared information with the US and UK governments.

FireEye plans to release a full report into the activity but has not specified a date.

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