Zarif criticises Twitter for removing Iranians' accounts
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticised a recent move by the social media platform Twitter to shut down accounts of Iranian nationals, including TV presenters and students, as it ignores accounts used for Washington’s regime change policy against Tehran.
“Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op',” Zarif said on his Twitter account on Sunday, addressing Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey.
Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC? #YouAreBots
Last month, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) announced that they had removed hundreds of pages and accounts that could be linked to Iran.
Zarif also noted the Al Jazeera news channel report on this issue and asked his audience to take a look for "further information about scourge of #TwitterBots furnishing 'regime change' agenda."
Last month, Google, Facebook and Twitter announced the shutdown of pages and accounts they say were linked to Iran.
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.
"The turning point was really [Donald] Trump's election," says journalist and New America fellow Azadeh Moaveni. "Once it became clear that there would be heightened hostility with Iran, there was a profusion of new accounts, anonymous accounts who were single-mindedly and purposefully going after people who wrote about, talked about Iran with nuance."
While Twitter did not respond directly to questions about the methodology it used to detect organised manipulation of its platform, lecturer in Middle East history at Exeter University, Marc Owen Jones, shared with us 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 terrorist group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (known as MKO or MEK).
Related news: Anti MKO protests held in Paris
The MEK allied itself with former Iraqi dictator Saddam, during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.
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 Islamic government, and has been supported for many years by the US government. In fact, the MKO or MEK is known as "America's Good Terrorists".