Tirana Times: Facebook Removes 300 Accounts tied to Iranian exile group MEK in Albania
A network of 300 Facebook accounts, Pages, Groups and accounts on Instagram which appeared to be run from a single location in Albania and operated by the exiled militant opposition group from Iran, Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), were removed by Facebook, due to their “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign country.” According to the March 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour Report published by Facebook, the network “targeted primarily Iran and also global audiences with content related to Iran.” During the investigation, Facebook uncovered three separate clusters of activity, which included “consistent and long-running infrastructure connections between the fake accounts and authentic accounts of MEK-linked individuals and Pages operated from Albania.”
According to Facebook, the network operated by MEK appeared to have been most active in 2017, with another spike in activity in the second half of 2020. Although they posted at high volumes, in general, they failed to build an audience on Fb, with only some exceptions. The people behind this activity relied on a combination of authentic and fake accounts to “post MEK-related content and comment on their own and other people’s posts, including those of international news organizations like Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and BBC. They also frequently posted links to websites and other social media channels affiliated with MEK.” Although the network used a variety of tactics to disguise its fake accounts, the automated system of FB disabled over the years a significant portion of them, while some accounts were also disabled since they violated the Community Standards against violence and incitement.
Regarding the followers that these accounts attracted, Fb reported that about 9,000 accounts followed one or more of the 41 Pages created, about 150 accounts joined at least one of the 21 Groups created, and around 112,000 people followed one or more of the 146 Instagram accounts. There were also 128 accounts on Facebook. The network almost exclusively “posted about events in, or related to, Iran. It routinely praised the activity of MEK and its leaders and criticized the Iranian government,” the report adds. In many cases, the accounts used fake profile names and photos, while other accounts used photos of Iranian celebrities or deceased dissidents.
The operators according to FB routinely shared technical infrastructure, meaning that the same operator could run multiple accounts, and multiple operators could run the same account. “These are some of the hallmarks of a so-called troll farm — a physical location where a collective of operators share computers and phones to jointly manage a pool of fake accounts as part of an influence operation,” said the report of Facebook.
According to the Associated Press, “the National Council for Resistance in Iran, an umbrella group that includes MEK, said in a statement that no accounts affiliated with it or MEK have been removed. The group also denied the existence of an Albanian troll farm affiliated with MEK.”
MEK is an Iranian opposition group many of whose members moved to Albania in 2013, where they live in a camp on the outskirts of Tirana.
Balkan Insider: Facebook Clamps Down on Iranian Dissident ‘Troll Farm’ In Albania
By Fjori Sinoruka,
Facebook has closed over 300 accounts belonging to members of the exiled Iranian dissident group Mojahedin-e Khalq, MEK, which is now based in Albania, saying their ‘inauthentic behavior’ violated company policy.
Facebook removed more than 300 Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to members of an Iranian dissident group based in Albania that had been targeting Iran and content related to Iran.
“The network violated our policy against foreign interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity,” the social media giant said in its March report, “Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report”, which it published on Tuesday.
According to the report, the network now taken down was very active in 2017 and in the second half of 2020.
“The people behind this activity relied on a combination of authentic and fake accounts to post MEK-related content and comment on their own and other people’s posts, including those of international news organizations like Radio Liberty, Voice of America and BBC,” said the report.
The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, MEK, is an Iranian opposition group many of whose members moved to Albania in 2013 on the advice of the US. They live mainly in a camp on the outskirts of the capital Tirana.
Facebook added that it will continue to monitor any attempts to re-establish the network by people behind this campaign.
“The operation relied heavily on fake accounts to post and amplify its messages. Some of these accounts went through repeated name changes. Other accounts used the names of deceased members of MEK. Some claimed to be located in Iran but were operated from Albania. All the accounts were overt in their support of MEK and their criticism of the Iranian government,” the report continued.
Some of the fake accounts were a decade old but most of them were created between 2014 and 2016. They were particularly active in 2017, reduced activity in 2018–2019 and resumed in 2020.