Twitter Removes Hundreds of Accounts Linked to Iran, Russia, Armenia

Rogue nations waging online disinformation campaigns

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Alexei Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)
February 24, 2021

Twitter removed on Tuesday nearly 400 accounts that it says were part of "state-linked information operations" controlled by Iran, Russia, and Armenia. These accounts sought to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election and surreptitiously promote information favorable to both the Russian and Armenian governments.

In total, "373 associated accounts across the four networks [two in Russia] were permanently suspended from Twitter" for using the social media giant to spread disinformation in the United States and bolster the narratives emanating from both the Russian and Armenian governments.

The disclosure provides further insight into efforts by adversarial regimes to influence American political discourse and sow division in the country. Twitter and other social media giants have been on the defense for some time as foreign actors use their platforms to disseminate propaganda, oftentimes covertly and for nefarious purposes.

At least 130 accounts linked to the Iranian government were removed late last year after the FBI informed Twitter about an effort by the Islamic Republic to "disrupt the public conversation during the first 2020 U.S. Presidential Debate," according to Twitter. A further review identified hundreds of other Iranian-controlled accounts that sought to manipulate the social media website. So far, 238 accounts from Iran have been deleted.

In addition to the Iranian accounts, Twitter discovered two separate Russian disinformation networks and several others tied to the Armenian government, which has been locked in an ethnic battle with nearby Azerbaijan that has killed thousands and alarmed international human rights observers.

At least 69 fake Twitter accounts were "reliably tied to Russian state actors" and "amplified narratives that were aligned with the Russian government." Similar accounts sought to undermine member states of the NATO alliance and foster instability in the Western-aligned global security group.

A second set of Russian accounts, 31 in total, were found to be affiliated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) and other state-linked entities. "These accounts amplified narratives that had been previously associated with the IRA and other Russian influence efforts targeting the United States and European Union," according to information provided by Twitter.

The Armenian accounts, 35 of which were removed by Twitter, were found to be controlled by the government and created "in order to advance narratives that were targeting Azerbaijan and were geostrategically favorable to the Armenian government." The fake accounts, purporting to represent Azerbaijani political figures and new entities, appear to have been created in the aftermath of a deadly 2020 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh border region, which still remains unstable.