Reddit Ignored A Year's Worth Of User Warnings About Iranian Propaganda

from the fake-plastic-trees dept

Not to be outdone by their friends over at the Russian Internet Research Agency, Iran has also amped up its online disinformation efforts in a bid to fill the internet with an additional layer of hate and nonsense. Like Russia’s efforts, the goal appears to be focused on pouring some gasoline on the United States’ deep, existing partisan, racial, and ideological divisions. According to recent analysis by security firm FireEye, the Iranian effort included a rotating crop of fake social media identities and websites, all of which pushed policies of interest to the Iranian government.

The effort included numerous bogus news websites and hundreds of fake accounts on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Earlier this month Facebook announced it had removed hundreds of accounts and pages tied to this effort, with one of the fake organizations (“Liberty Front Press,”) having 155,000 Facebook and 48,000 Instagram followers. Twitter also subsequently announced that it had purged 770 different Twitter accounts found to be engaging in “coordinated manipulation” originating in Iran. It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole that isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

Of interesting note, Reddit users and a moderator had uncovered a number of these accounts more than a year ago. Some of these users were immensely-successful in getting Reddit love, with at least a quarter of the users considered Reddit “power users” with more than 10,000 karma (one of the suspended accounts, elikh13 had the top overall post on Reddit just last week). Iran’s effort most heavily targeted r/WorldNews, the site?s third-largest subreddit with more than 19 million subscribers.

From July 2017 onward, a group of volunteers including a Reddit moderator from California named Alex Brown brought the bogus accounts to Reddit’s attention more than two-dozen times, but were repeatedly ignored:

“Brown and other amateur researchers notified Reddit, but the website…did not respond.” In total, there were more than two dozen times that the group of Reddit power users, led by Brown, notified Reddit employees of the Iranian disinformation operation, starting in July 2017, according to correspondence viewed by NBC News. The two most recent messages identifying Iranian propaganda to Reddit’s paid administrators came on Aug. 16 and 18, just days before Facebook’s pulldown.”

After the FireEye report became publicized, Reddit joined Facebook and Twitter in shutting many of the accounts down. The company acknowledged that it had confirmed 143 accounts that were part of the Iranian effort, 126 of which were created between 2015 and 2018, and 17 of which dated back to 2011. From a post by Reddit CTO Christopher Slowe:

“We believe this type of interference will increase in frequency, scope, and complexity. We’re investing in more advanced detection and mitigation capabilities, and have recently formed a threat detection team that has a very particular set of skills. Skills they have acquired…you know the drill. Our actions against these threats may not always be immediately visible to you, but this is a battle we have been fighting, and will continue to fight for the foreseeable future. And of course, we?ll continue to communicate openly with you about these subjects.”

Reddit has reached out to Brown and the other volunteer researchers and apologized, and the company says it’s continuing to work on standards and procedures to police evolving propaganda efforts moving forward. Brown told NBC News he appreciated the apology, but noted that sites like Reddit still aren’t doing enough to police disinformation and propaganda. The website still has no hard rule prohibiting propaganda, though these users may occasionally run afoul of Reddit’s restrictions on spamming.

It remains entirely unclear what actual impact these efforts had on the 2016 election and American discourse, but as the recently-revealed Macedonian disinformation efforts make clear, we’re only just scratching the service of how deep this particular rabbit hole goes, which countries and governments are involved, and just how much cross-coordination has taken place.

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Companies: reddit

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Comments on “Reddit Ignored A Year's Worth Of User Warnings About Iranian Propaganda”

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fdsa says:

Re: Re: Wishes

How people fight over them is the issue. Irrational emotional mob anger only pushes people further into their safe-zones. It’s tribalism.

Remedy for the situation is if more people used empathy, calm discourse, or assumed the strongest interpretation of another person’s arguments rather than the weakest – not twisting their words for tribe points.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Wishes

The main problem with politics in this country is that people get so dug-into their own position that they don’t listen to each other. It goes something like this:
Person 1: Trump’s policy against immigrants is bad. (As reported by a few news sites and backed by Trump’s character.)
Person 2: I think Trump’s policy is good (Okay, that’s someone’s opinion.)
Person 1: But according to these sites, here are the bad things that will happen. (Again, using statistics and proof.)
Person 2: I’ll believe whatever I want and you have no right to censor my postings. You think Trump is bad now, just wait until my friends and I vote-in even worse people!

And, yes, I’ve seen a number of sites talking about a “left-wing backlash” as far-right people try to “get back” at left-wing people for attacking them.
So once again, people let emotion tell them how to vote: they’re rather “get back” at someone else than vote for candidates that would be best for them or the country.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wishes

So once again, people let emotion tell them how to vote: they’re rather "get back" at someone else than vote for candidates that would be best for them or the country.

Nah, that’s a rationalization.

Nobody voted for Trump because someone was mean to them on the Internet. If someone claims to have done so, it’s because they’re embarrassed by their choice and want to blame it on somebody else.

Party of personal responsibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s sad that politics is such a rift in this country.

It seems worse that americans avoid talking about politics in private; it’s not considered an appropriate dinner-table topic. It’s hard to sit down with another person your respect and engage in reasoned debate with them with that ball-and-chain of “I still want to be friends with this person afterward because they’re a real person to me” around your ankle.

Instead, americans seem to talk about politics either to people they already know the politics of (safe targets, preaching to the choir, etc) or online (where you are comfortably free of ‘real people’.)

Maybe it’s just anecdotal bias on my part.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can confirm this.

I have lost friends “because” of this administration.

I’m talking a groomsman and my best-man from my wedding friend.

Like many racists hiding deep in their closets they came bounding out in glee when Trump was confirmed and started doing overtly racist stuff. Started to post things that were anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, etc.

I ask them point blank, how can you post this shit? And it’s like I’m talking to another person when they say “oh whatever grow up.” or some other inane response along with “we don’t want people like that around here”

Being long time friends knowing full well my family history like I know their history. They know one of my parents came to this country when they fled here on refugee status ages ago when they were a 4 year old.

The other immigrated here in a far more normal way.

These people, these really good friends, all the sudden pull off their mask to say to me they never wanted me in this country, they never wanted the ability for me to be born or my family to exist in this country. Just what the fuck.

So yea, Americans not talking about politics more often is a big issue. Your comment really resonated with me.

I wasted my life with people who were my friends for whatever fucked up reason. Maybe I was this “exception” you always hear with racists when they go “Oh black people steal jobs and rape white woman… except for that one black family that lives in town. Those are good people. The exception to the rule”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Online disinformation efforts?

This. I have issues with some of these things when they produce utter disinformation, but the complaints about fake users or outlets “sowing discord” by publishing or promoting factual material are patently ridiculous. Even a year or more ago, the more honest complaints actually admit that factual news is a problem for them because of who is promoting it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Iran has also amped up its online disinformation efforts in a bid to fill the internet with an additional layer of hate and nonsense. “

Where is the disinformation? They were making phony accounts to promote news articles, but were those news articles disinformation? I don’t think so. They were about things like the Syrian civil war and Palestinian rights.

Watt About says:

Always ignoring that Israel shot and killed a couple hundred,

besides wounded for life a couple thousand Palestinians who were no actual threat, protesting ACTUALLY being trapped by a wall Israel built in an open-air prison in THEIR OWN country.

Not to be outdone by their friends over at the Russian Internet Research Agency, Iran has also amped up its online disinformation efforts in a bid to fill the internet with an additional layer of hate and nonsense.

THAT IS SHEER PROPAGANDA. Crude and obvious, though I’m sure minion believes it a sly insertion.

Never a hint here that US / UK / Israel even engage in propaganda. But the US has at least 850,000 spooks in "Top Secret America", and some of them must do propaganda. Never a hint here that the "color revolutions" including now in Iran were/are CIA-funded, besides the de-stabilization of Venezuala. No, it’s only the chosen enemies of Israel that Techdirt attacks.

Neither Russia nor Iran are even aggressive in way that I see. In any case, definitely not worse than during the Cold War. It’s just that now shrieky little snowflakes write tripe like this. — By the way, the New York Times up to 90s was definitely promoting Communism and saying we should make friends with Russia! Now that’s flipped because the Deep State needs it as enemy. All just more Establishment propanda.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Always ignoring that Israel shot and killed a couple hundred,

Actually TD did a piece on American propaganda just the other day. Pretty sure it was something about an American company robo-calling older people and lying to their face about how net neutrality would cost them their life savings or something like that.

THAT IS SHEER PROPAGANDA. Crude and obvious,

So you’re saying Russia and Iran aren’t running their own online disinformation efforts that have the effect of adding another layer of hate and nonsense onto the already massive pile of hate and nonsense we currently have? Good to know, I guess they are angels looking out for the good of all humanity and Trump and America are the devil and should be burned at the stake.

Oh, woops, that’s right, you support Trump. Well, this is awkward.

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