“The Iran-based threat actors are a number of well-resourced and persistent groups attempting to operate online, including on our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
FakeReporter researchers found that many of the images and memes used by Iranians come from Iranian websites or can be linked back to Facebook and Twitter accounts with previous links to Iran. While researchers believe many countries already do this, the recent investigation is the first to detail how a government can dig into small online community groups and show how disinformation campaign works on encrypted apps.
US intelligence agencies are concerned that the same thing could happen in the United States. Last week, the Justice Department said it had blocked access to three dozen websites linked to Iran’s disinformation efforts. A US intelligence official told The Times that authorities are closely monitoring messaging groups on Telegram, WhatsApp and other apps for Iranian disinformation.
Apps are an ideal vehicle for Iran to join a closed group of like-minded people and spread divisive and extremist messages, intelligence officials who are not authorized to interview and speak to condition of anonymity said. They are sharing memes, for example, Mr. Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler – an offensive comparison that may promote some people to more extreme views and make others think that their online groups has become too extreme.
“In these private messaging groups, people tend to trust each other and share more freely because there is a sense that they share a common political background and that the app itself is safe and secure,” Gonen said. Ben Itzhak, an Israeli lawyer, said he used to work for Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. He is among dozens of Israelis who say Iran’s efforts have targeted them.
Those in contact with Iranians say the pandemic and upheaval in Israeli politics have made them particularly vulnerable to misinformation.
To avoid overwhelming crowds during the pandemic, many Israelis have joined local protests for their town, city or even compound. To plan them, the Israelis have formed residential groups on WhatsApp, Telegram and other social media platforms. Anyone can join groups. New members are usually connected by clicking on links shared by friends or posted to a public website. While some groups have several dozen members, others have more than 10,000 people.