Reuters Special Report: How Iran spreads disinformation around the world
Media website Nile Net Online portrays itself as the purveyor of “true news”…to expand the scope of freedom of expression in the Arab World” from supposed offices in Cairo. With over 115,000 followers between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it had a significant reach. The contact and geographical information listed on the pages, however, were fake. “The reason: Nile Net Online is part of an influence operation based in Tehran. It’s one of more than 70 websites found by Reuters which push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, in an operation that cybersecurity experts, social media firms and journalists are only starting to uncover. The sites found by Reuters are visited by more than half a million people a month, and have been promoted by social media accounts with more than a million followers.
The sites underline how political actors worldwide are increasingly circulating distorted or false information online to influence public opinion. The discoveries follow allegations that Russian disinformation campaigns have swayed voters in the United States and Europe. Advisers to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, and the army in Myanmar, are also among those using social media to distribute propaganda and attack their enemies. Moscow has denied the charges; Riyadh and Yangon have not commented. Former CIA director John Brennan told Reuters that ‘countries around the globe’ are now using such information warfare tactics. ‘The Iranians are sophisticated cyber players,’ he said of the Iranian campaign. ‘There are elements of the Iranian intelligence services that are rather capable in terms of operating (online).’”