Culture

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
content moderation, iran, trolls, warnings

Companies:
reddit



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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  1. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 7 Sep 2018 @ 1:59pm

    Re:

    Politics and religion have always been taboo subjects, and for the very reason that it's almost always divisive.

    Unfortunately on the internet, and esp. with social media, people feel fine saying things they would never say in front of people.

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