Iranian and Russian pages sought to influence Latin American elections

n total, Facebook removed 38 accounts, 6 Pages and 4 Groups on Facebook, and 10 Instagram accounts originating in Iran and targeting Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

Facebook announced in a press release the decision to remove accounts aimed at Latin American, US, and French-speaking audiences in North Africa for violating their use policies. This decision is part of the commitment that the social network has accepted to eliminate the inauthentic contents of its platform.

In total, Facebook removed 38 accounts, 6 Pages and 4 Groups on Facebook, and 10 Instagram accounts originating in Iran and targeting Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. 93 accounts and 17 Facebook pages and 4 Instagram accounts originating in Iran were also deleted for violating the policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior, in addition to 50 Instagram accounts and a Facebook account.

Russia and Iran, the origin of the infractions

Facebook noted that of the accounts removed, three of them originated in Iran and one in Russia. The accounts were aimed at acting in different regions: the United States, North Africa, and Latin America.

The operations created networks of accounts to deceive people, hiding who they were and what they were doing. Facebook shared its findings with authorities and other companies in the industry.

Facebook’s efforts respond to the criticisms that the social network had received after the 2016 elections in the United States. Several opponents pointed out that Russia-controlled accounts created pages to spread false information about the elections that took place this year. Members of the Democratic Party point out that these actions influenced to achieve the triumph of Donald Trump.

Since then, Facebook has updated its policies. Currently, the platform is constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity. “We do not want our services to be used to manipulate people,” the social network said in the statement.

With this objective, the Melon Park company deleted Pages, Groups, and accounts based on their behavior and not the content they shared. In all cases, those behind this action coordinated and used false accounts to misrepresent their identity, which led to their removal.

Facebook celebrated the progress they have made in identifying and eradicating these types of abuse in their service, although he stressed that it is a continuous challenge. It is among the company’s plans to continue improving to anticipate those practices and develop technology, employ more people and work with authorities, security specialists and other companies.

Who managed the accounts?

Account managers focused on Latin American audiences presented themselves as if they were local, used fake accounts to publish in Groups and manage Pages, pretending to be news organizations, and redirected traffic to domains outside the platform. They frequently reused stories published by Iranian state media about Hezbollah, the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, tensions between Israel and Palestine, between Iran and the United States, the war in Yemen, and also published content designed for some countries on domestic issues, geopolitics, and public figures.

Those behind the network of Iranian accounts with audiences focused on the United States used compromised and fake accounts – some of which had already been deactivated by our automated systems – to impersonate local, manage Pages, join Groups and direct traffic to off-platform domains, which were connected to the “Liberty Front Press” investigation, a network linked to Iran that was removed in August 2018. The administrators of the Pages and the owners of the accounts published news of local and geopolitical politics, about public figures of the United States, political affairs of the United States and Israel, support for Palestine and the conflict in Yemen.

Finally, the accounts in Russia maintained a campaign in the United States shows some links with the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and has the hallmark of an operation with many resources, which took robust security measures to hide its identity and location. Facebook has observed in the past that this practice seems to have made it difficult for accounts to gain followers in authentic communities. Those behind this activity used fake accounts, some of which had already been detected and deactivated by our automated systems for being inauthentic and being involved in the generation of spam. These accounts followed, interacted and occasionally commented on the publications of others, seeking to bring attention to their own content. In general, they reused content shared on the Internet by others, including screenshots of publications of publishing organizations and public figures on social networks. A small part of those accounts also reused old memes originally published by the Internet Research Agency. The people behind this operation frequently published political content, including about elections in the United States, environmental and racial issues, about the LGBTQ community, about candidates, about the confederation and about conservatism and liberalism. They also kept accounts in which they presented themselves as locals in some of the states called “swing” (without a defined political affiliation) and appeared to be both conservative and progressive.