Iranian network attempted to influence Scottish independence referendum, US elections, says Facebook

Iranian network attempted to influence Scottish independence referendum, US elections, says Facebook
Facebook says it has shut down a network linked to Iran's state broadcaster which dates back to 2011.
2 min read
The network included around 500 profiles and pages promoting pro-Iran material [Getty]

Iran's state broadcaster used hundreds of fake social media accounts in an attempt to sway Western public opinion during elections, according to a report released by Facebook on Tuesday.

According to Graphika, the firm tasked with verifying Facebook's findings, the network was linked to the 
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation.

The social media giant said the now-defunct network of accounts attempted to influence the outcome of Scotland's 2014 independence referendum, in which voters rejected a break away from the United Kingdom.

During the campaign, a handful of accounts advocated the leave vote, posting several cartoons portraying then-prime minister David Cameron as "the embodiment of English oppression".

In 2012, the network also promoted former Republican lawmaker Ron Paul's failed presidential bid and the Occupy movement.

"The focus on western democratic exercises appears to have been a short-lived experiment conducted with a relatively small number of accounts: it did not have the scale, the sophistication, or the duration of the later Russian efforts," the Graphika report said.

The network reportedly devoted more time to Arabic-language campaigns, including by publishing articles and memes criticising Iran's regional foes.

In recent months, the accounts shared content inferring that the coronavirus pandemic was an attack on Iran by its enemies. The accounts also suggested sanctions on Iran and its ally Syria be lifted amid the emergency.

While the network's success was limited, Graphika says its start date shows attempts to influence global opinion long before the use of Facebook bots became a hot topic during the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook suspended the Iranian network in April, along with seven others suspected of engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behaviour". 

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