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News > MKO behind fake Twitter thread against Iran

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MKO behind fake Twitter thread against Iran

Last month, Google, Facebook and Twitter announced the shutdown of pages and accounts they say were linked to Iran, Aljazeera reported on Sunday. 

Meanwhile, a widespread campaign of social media manipulation by actors who are opposed to the government in Tehran has had many analysts eyeing Iran's enemies for clues to who might be behind the project.

While Twitter did not respond directly to questions about the methodology it used to detect organized manipulation of its platform, lecturer in Middle East history at Exeter University, Marc Owen Jones, shared with Aljazeera how he uses freely available Twitter metadata to detect the presence of bots.

'If you want to use bots to be effective you need a lot of accounts, which means you might create a lot of accounts on a specific day or week or month,' explains Jones. 'The majority of the accounts tweeting on the #FreeIran and #Iran_Regime_Change hashtag from late December up to May, were created within about a four-month window. What that would suggest is that a lot of the activity on those hashtags came from bots.'

Most of the accounts identified had only a few dozen or a few hundred followers and used generic profile pictures. The vast majority tweet almost exclusively in opposition to the Islamic Republic with many exhibiting sympathies with an exiled Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK).

In 2013, the MEK moved to Albania at the behest of the United States. The group has long lobbied for policies to overthrow Iran's government.

Former MEK members still stranded in the Albanian capital, Tirana, having left the group, described how the MEK uses thousands of fake Twitter accounts to both promote their organization and to boost online calls for regime change.

'Overall I would say that several thousand accounts are managed by about 1,000-1,500 MEK members,' former MEK member, Hassan Heyrani, told The Listening Post. 'It was all very well organized and there were clear instructions about what needed to be done.'

The MEK online unit was especially active during several weeks of protests beginning in December 2017. Members were ordered to emphasize the anti-regime character of the demonstrations.

'Our orders would tell us the hashtags to use in our tweets in order to make them more active,' says Hassan Shahbaz, another former MEK member. 'It was our job to provide coverage of these protests by seeking out, tweeting and re-tweeting videos while adding our own comments.'


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