Iran Feeding Propaganda to Media Platforms Worldwide

Iran Feeding Propaganda to Media Platforms Worldwide

Saturday, 1 December, 2018 - 08:30
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the United Nations headquarters in Vienna June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
London - Asharq Al-Awsat
A Reuters report released on Friday revealed the extent of Tehran’s engagement in misinformation media campaigns worldwide, using the internet to access a pool of over half a million viewers.

More than 70 websites found by Reuters push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries. The content comes from the International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM), which says it is headquartered in Tehran.

Website Nile Net Online promises Egyptians “true news” from its offices in the heart of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, “to expand the scope of freedom of expression in the Arab world.”

Until recently, Nile Net Online had more than 115,000 page-followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But its contact telephone numbers, including one listed as 0123456789, don’t work. A Facebook map showing its location dropped a pin onto the middle of the street, rather than any building. And regulars at the square, including a newspaper stallholder and a policeman, say they have never heard of the website.

Nile Net Online, is one of more than 70 websites found by Reuters which push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, in an operation that cybersecurity experts, social media firms and journalists are only starting to uncover. The sites found by Reuters are visited by more than half a million people a month, and have been promoted by social media accounts with more than a million followers.

All the sites are linked to Iran in one of two ways. Some carry stories, video and cartoons supplied by an online agency called the International Union of Virtual Media (IUVM), which says on its website it is headquartered in Tehran. Some have shared online registration details with IUVM, such as addresses and phone numbers. Twenty-one of the websites do both.

Emails sent to IUVM bounced back and telephone numbers the agency gave in web registration records did not work. Documents available on the main IUVM website say its objectives include “confronting with remarkable arrogance, western governments and Zionism front activities.”

Some of the sites in the Iranian operation were first exposed in August by companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent, Alphabet, after FireEye found them. The social media companies have closed hundreds of accounts that promoted the sites or pushed Iranian messaging. Facebook said last month it had taken down 82 pages, groups and accounts linked to the Iranian campaign; these had gathered more than one million followers in the United States and Britain.

Amongst the Tehran-based propagandist platform is a website called Realnie Novosti, or “Real News,” for Russian readers. It offers a downloadable mobile phone app but its operator could not be traced. Another is an outlet offering daily news and satirical cartoons in Sudan, and ten outlets target readers in Yemen.

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