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Twitter removes nearly 4,800 accounts linked to Iran government

Twitter has removed nearly 4,800 accounts it claimed were being used by Iranian government to spread misinformation, the company said on Thursday.

Iran has made wide use of Twitter to support its political and diplomatic goals.

The step aims to prevent election interference and misinformation.

The social media giant released a transparency report that detailed recent efforts to tamp down on the spread of misinformation by insidious actors on its platform. In addition to the Iranian accounts, Twitter suspended four accounts it suspected of being linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA), 130 fake accounts associated with the Catalan independence movement in Spain and 33 accounts operated by a commercial entity in Venezuela.

It revealed the deletions in an update to its transparency report.

The 4,800 accounts were not a unified block, said Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of site integrity in a blog detailing its actions.

The Iranian accounts were divided into three categories depending on their activities. More than 1,600 accounts were tweeting global news content that supported the Iranian policies and actions. A total of 248 accounts were engaged specifically in discussion about Israel. Finally, a total of 2,865 accounts were banned due to taking on a false persona which was used to target political and social issues in Iran.

Since October 2018, Twitter has been publishing transparency reports on its investigations into state-backed information operations, releasing datasets on more than 30 million tweets.

Twitter has been regularly culling accounts it suspects of election interference from Iran, Russia and other nations since the fallout from the 2016 US presidential election. Back in February, the social media platform announced it had banned 2,600 Iran-linked accounts and 418 accounts tied to Russia's IRA it suspected of election meddling.

“We believe that people and organizations with the advantages of institutional power and which consciously abuse our service are not advancing healthy discourse but are actively working to undermine it,” Twitter said.

Automated accounts sharing fake news ahead of French polls: Experts

French voters are being deluged with false stories on social media ahead of the country’s presidential election, though the onslaught of “junk news” is not as severe as that during last year’s U.S. presidential campaign, according to a study by Oxford University researchers.

A man looks at campaign posters of the 11th candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann.

The study to be published Friday and another published on Wednesday add evidence to complaints by officials in France, Germany and the United States that Russia is trying to replicate its cyber-powered election meddling in American politics.

Just days before France votes in the first round of a presidential election, the study said misinformation at times has accounted for one-quarter of the political links shared on Twitter in France. It defined “junk news” as deliberately false stories and those expressing “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial” views with logical flaws and opinions passed along as facts.

“French voters are sharing better quality information than what many U.S. voters shared and almost as much quality news and information as German users share,” according to the study by the Oxford Internet Institute, which will be published on Friday but was made available on Thursday to Reuters.

The French study uses data from a recent week on Twitter but a greater role is being played by Facebook, said Kevin Limonier of the University of Paris VIII, who is studying social media manipulation in the election with a grant from the French government.

Facebook recently suspended 30,000 suspected automated accounts in France. Although it characterized the cleanup as an objective move against spamming, many of the profiles were distributing politically driven misinformation and propaganda.

On Twitter, where automated accounts are allowed, many of the same accounts that promoted Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. campaign last year have turned their attention to pushing conspiracy theories and far-right viewpoints, according to Limonier and Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and now a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.