Facebook Facing Challenges Countering Iranian Influence Operations

Iran teaming with Qatar to elect pro-Iranian PM in Iraq

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Facebook said Friday it has taken steps to weaken an Iranian influence operation targeting internet users around the world after a Reuters investigation found the campaign is significantly more expansive than previously thought.

"While we're making progress rooting out abuse, it's an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded," a Facebook spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon.

"We constantly have to improve to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people, and working more closely with law enforcement, security experts, and other companies. Their collaboration is critical to our investigations since no one company can fight this on their own."

Facebook announced last week it had identified several new influence campaigns across its platform as part of a broader Iranian effort to covertly sway public opinion in other countries. The Reuters analysis of Tehran's influence operations uncovered an extensive network of anonymous websites and social media accounts spanning Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube in 11 different languages.

Iran has been particularly active in Iraq, where it's working alongside Qatar to install a pro-Iranian prime minister following the country's May parliamentary elections.

In a report published Thursday, the Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News said Qatari officials have been lobbying Iraqi officials to join an alliance between Iranian-backed Shia militia chief Hadi al-Amiri and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in an effort to form a new government when the new parliament convenes Sept. 3.

The Iranian-backed Amiri-Maliki alliance is competing for majority in parliament against a newly announced coalition between populist cleric Muqtada al Sadr and outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, along with two other parliamentary groups. Sadr is both anti-U.S. and anti-Iran while Abadi is a vocal ally of the United States.

The Sadr-Abadi alliance is currently 28 seats short of a majority. The two blocks have been competing to join with Kurdish and Sunni coalitions to secure the majority.

Jim Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said if the Iranian-backed Amiri Maliki coalition were to secure the majority "Iraq would become Iran’s 32nd province and Amiri, a protégé of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, could emerge as a satrap of Iran’s rebuilt empire."

"Such a government would undoubtedly quickly push for the withdrawal of U.S. military advisers and would become a satellite regime that would orbit increasingly closer to Tehran," Phillips said.

Lawmakers will elect a parliamentary speaker and two deputies in their first session, which begins next week. They convene later to elect a new president then task the largest block in parliament with forming a government.

Natalie Johnson

Natalie Johnson   Email Natalie | Full Bio | RSS
Natalie Johnson is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, she was a news reporter at the Daily Signal. Johnson’s work has been featured in outlets such as Newsweek, Fox News and Drudge Report. She graduated from James Madison University in 2015 with a B.A. in political science and journalism. She can be reached at johnson@freebeacon.com. Her twitter handle is @nataliejohnsonn.

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