Accounts linked to an Iranian "influence operation" are being removed from major social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter announced their efforts to prevent the operation from levering their platforms earlier this week, and now Google has done the same for several of its sites.
The number of accounts Google removed from YouTube, Blogger and Google+ pales in comparison to the number of accounts Facebook and Twitter removed. Google cut some 39 channels with "13,466 total U.S. views on relevant videos" from YouTube, removed six blogs from Blogger and deleted 13 accounts on the Google+ social network.
Facebook pulled 652 accounts from its platform and Instagram--though some were linked to Russia instead of Iran--and Twitter deleted 248. The disparity makes sense when you consider the amount of effort each platform requires: it's easier to share a link, image, or short message across multiple accounts than it is to produce videos or longer blog posts. And, well, fewer people use Google+ than either Facebook or Twitter.
Google and Facebook both collaborated with the FireEye security company on finding these malicious accounts. FireEye remained careful with its phrasing in the full report on this operation because it still isn't comfortable definitively attributing the efforts to Iran, but all three companies have said that all signs point to this being an Iranian operation that's supposed to sway Western political opinions in the country's favor.
Facebook said earlier this week that it found pages linked to "Liberty Front Press" that it connected "to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook pages sharing the same admins."
Google said it drew connections between the accounts it removed from its platforms and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). The company explained:
- Technical data associated with these actors is strongly linked to the official IRIB IP address space.
- Domain ownership information about these actors is strongly linked to IRIB account information.
- Account metadata and subscriber information associated with these actors is strongly linked to the corresponding information associated with the IRIB, indicating common ownership and control.
Google, like Facebook and FireEye, warned that Iran isn't the only country attempting to sway others via social media. Russia has been repeatedly accused of doing the same thing, and it's not crazy to think that other countries are likely conducting influence operations of their own. You know that comic about nobody on the internet knowing you're a dog? Well, now it seems more like nobody on the internet knows you're a fake account made for political gain.