Facebook says it has taken down several fake accounts based in Iran that had voiced support for protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Facebook detailed several instances of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” around the globe, in which fake accounts were set up to interfere in the politics of other countries. It said the accounts have been removed from the social network.
The announcement came in a monthly report released on Thursday. It said one such case involved 12 Facebook accounts, two pages and 307 Instagram accounts that had shared content in Hebrew and Arabic about protests in both Israel and Iraq.
Facebook said the individuals behind the accounts had sought to shield their identities but that it was able to trace them to a Tehran-based IT company. It said the network of fake accounts had around 10,000 followers and was in the early stages of building an audience.
Netanyahu and his supporters seized on the report, saying it proved that Iran supported the aims of his political opponents. The Black Flag movement, one of the main protest groups, accused the prime minister of incitement and called on supporters to attend its next weekly protest on Saturday.
Israelis have been holding mass protests for months calling on Netanyahu to resign over his trial on multiple corruption charges and his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.
Israel views Iran as its greatest threat because of Tehran’s nuclear program, its support for regional militant groups and the incendiary rhetoric of its leaders.
Israel said it thwarted a major cyberattack earlier this year targeting its water infrastructure, which was widely attributed to Iran. Israel is suspected of retaliating two weeks later with a cyberattack on an Iranian port.
Israel and Iran have engaged in years of covert battles that have included high-tech hacking and cyberattacks. Most famously, U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies are suspected of unleashing a computer worm called Stuxnet that disrupted Iran’s nuclear program.
Facebook is banning posts that deny or distort the Holocaust and will start directing people to authoritative sources if they search for information about the Nazi genocide.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new policy Monday, the latest attempt by the company to take action against conspiracy theories and misinformation ahead of the U.S. presidential election three weeks away.
The decision comes amid a push by Holocaust survivors around the world who lent their voices to a campaign targeting Zuckerberg beginning this summer, urging him to take action to remove Holocaust denial posts from the social media site.
Coordinated by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the #NoDenyingIt campaign used Facebook itself to make the survivors’ entreaties to Zuckerberg heard, posting one video per day urging him to remove Holocaust-denying groups, pages and posts as hate speech.
The testimonials coincided with an advertising boycott by companies pushing Facebook into taking a stronger stand against various forms of hate speech and extremism around the world.
Facebook said Monday that the new policy “is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.” Surveys have shown some younger Americans believe the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated.
Tech companies began promising to take a firmer stand against accounts used to promote hate and violence after a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a self-described white supremacist drove into a crowd of counterprotesters. Yet Facebook and other companies have been slower to respond to posts that amplify false information, but don’t pose an immediate threat of violence or other physical harm.
Zuckerberg said in a blog post Monday that he believes the new policy strikes the “right balance” in drawing the lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech.
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” he wrote. “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.”
Zuckerberg had raised the ire of the Claims Conference, based in New York, and others with comments in 2018 to the tech website Recode that posts denying the Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews would not necessarily be removed. He said he did not think Holocaust deniers were “intentionally” getting it wrong, and that as long as posts were not calling for harm or violence, even offensive content should be protected.
After an outcry, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish himself, clarified that while he personally found “Holocaust denial deeply offensive” he believed that “the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it was relieved by Monday’s shift but criticized Facebook for taking nearly a decade after the New York-based group first began to publicly call on the company to curb Holocaust denial in 2011. The group tracked more anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. last year than at an any time over the past four decades, and has said it continues to find Holocaust denial groups on Facebook, some hidden and most private.
“While Facebook has made numerous positive changes to its policies since that time, it stubbornly had held onto this outrageous platform policy, even in the face of the undeniable threat of growing antisemitism and antisemitic violence around the world,” the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, wrote in a blog post.
The Claims Conference on Monday said it welcomed Zuckerberg’s changed approach and the company’s decision to take action after its campaign of survivor testimonials.
“It’s a very important statement and it’s a building block toward ensuring that this sort of anti-Semitism is not amplified,” said Greg Schneider, the group’s executive vice president.
The group on Sunday posted its 75th video from a Holocaust survivor appealing directly to Zuckerberg. Fred Kurz, an American who was born in Austria in 1937, described losing both of his parents in concentration camps.
Zuckerberg never met directly with the group but Schneider said he believes the voices of survivors and their “moral authority” made a difference.
“Honestly, I’m a little surprised it took 75 days, but I’m glad it happened,” he said.
Facebook said Monday it would immediately begin removing Holocaust denial posts from Facebook and Instagram, which it owns, but it could take some time to train the company’s technical systems and human moderators to enforce it on a global scale.
Several other groups that had pushed for Facebook to take a stricter line on Holocaust denial said Monday’s move was an important step.
“Facebook is showing that it recognizes Holocaust denial for what it truly is — a form of antisemitism and therefore hate speech,” Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a prepared statement.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, said it supports Facebook’s new initiative to direct its users to “credible and fact-based” information about the Holocaust, such as the memorial’s website.
Facebook has removed 276 accounts that used fake profiles to pose as right-leaning Americans and comment on news articles, often in favor of President Donald Trump, the company announced Thursday, reports AP.
The platform also permanently banned an Arizona-based digital communications firm that it said was behind the fake accounts.
The move was prompted by reporting last month in The Washington Post that a pro-Trump group known as Turning Point Action was paying teenagers to post coordinated, supportive messages, a violation of Facebook’s rules.
Facebook and Twitter have been regularly removing fake accounts — both domestic and foreign — that try to insert themselves in the U.S. political discourse and influence the election. But social media companies face broader threats around misinformation and voter suppression that at times come from President Donald Trump himself.
The latest network Facebook removed became active before the 2018 midterm elections and went dormant until June, when the accounts began posting on topics including the coronavirus pandemic, criticism of the Democratic Party and its nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as praise for Trump and other Republicans.
“So sick of democrats continuing to make republicans look bad! It makes me tired of politics and I just believe Republicans are much more humble when it comes to money because Democrats will do anything to screw over Americans,” read one post Facebook cited as an example.
Individuals behind the accounts used stock photos to create fake profiles, many of which were removed by Facebook’s automated detection software. Facebook determined that the accounts were being coordinated by Rally Forge, an Arizona-based firm.
“Although the people behind this network attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation linked this activity to Rally Forge,” Facebook said.
While Facebook’s investigation cited Rally Forge’s work for Turning Point USA, the work was actually performed on behalf of Turning Point Action, an independent political action committee, according to a statement from the organization. Turning Point Action added that it will work with Facebook “to rectify any misunderstanding” about its content.
Turning Point Action was founded last year by Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a Phoenix-based non-profit that recruits college students to advocate for conservative causes. The group posts memes and videos on its social media pages that support Trump and other conservative politicians. Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. have also delivered speeches at Turning Point USA or Turning Point Action events, most recently during a June campaign rally in Phoenix.
Messages left with Rally Forge and Turning Point USA were not immediately returned Thursday.
In all, 200 Facebook accounts, 55 pages and 76 Instagram accounts were removed. Facebook said the network had more than 370,000 followers on Facebook, and 22,000 on Instagram. While most of the fake profiles had posed as conservatives, Facebook said some pretended to be left-leaning in 2018.
Twitter, meanwhile, said Thursday that it had suspended 104 accounts linked to an Iranian effort to “artificially” amplify debates over the death of George Floyd and racial justice in the U.S. The platform said that in some cases, the accounts had been hijacked from their original owners.
“In cases where we identify that an account has been compromised ... we aim to restore the account to the original account holder,” Twitter said in a statement. “We were able to do so successfully in most cases here.”
New security and privacy features introduced on Facebook Messenger will give users more control, the company says.
App Lock, one of the features, lets users add another layer of security to private messages and helps prevent other people from accessing them, Facebook said in a statement.
It also said that this optional feature will give users the confidence to know that if a friend or family member needs to borrow a phone, they won’t be able to access a user’s chats.
App Lock uses the device’s privacy settings like fingerprint or face authentication to unlock the Messenger app, and mobile touch or face ID is not transmitted to or stored by Facebook.
The feature became available from July 22, on iPhone and iPad and will come to Android in the next few months.
The Facebook Messenger said people say that they want more control over their inbox and calls.
“That’s why we’re working on new controls so you can decide who can message or call you directly, who goes to your requests folder, and who can’t message or call you at all,” it said.
Facebook said that this will be similar to the message controls on Instagram, and the company will share more details when they start testing these controls.
The hackers targeted the accounts of 130 people, some of its most high-profile users and were able to reset the passwords of 45 of those accounts, said Twitter.
“We’re embarrassed, we’re disappointed, and more than anything, we’re sorry. We know that we must work to regain your trust, and we will support all efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Twitter said in the blog post.
The San Francisco-based company said in a blog post Saturday that for up to eight of these accounts the attackers also downloaded the account’s information through the “Your Twitter Data” tool. None of the eight were verified accounts, Twitter said, adding that it is contacting the owners of the affected accounts.
The July 17 attack broke into the Twitter accounts of world leaders, celebrities and tech moguls in one of the most high-profile security breaches in recent years.
The attackers sent out tweets from the accounts of the public figures, offering to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.
It highlighted a major flaw with the service millions of people have come to rely on as an essential communications tool.
Allison Nixon, chief research officer at cybersecurity firm 221B said in an email Sunday that the people behind the attack appear to have come from the “OG” community, a group interested in original, short Twitter handles such as @a, @b or @c, for instance.
"Based upon what we have seen,the motivation for the most recent Twitter attack is similar to previous incidents we have observed in the OG community — a combination of financial incentive, technical bragging rights, challenge, and disruption,” Nixon wrote. “The OG community is not known to be tied to any nation state. Rather they are a disorganized crime community with a basic skillset and are a loosely organized group of serial fraudsters.”
While this attack did not appear go further than the Bitcoin ruse — at least for now — it raises questions about Twitter’s ability to secure its service against election interference and misinformation ahead of the U.S. presidential election.