Facebook takes down fake Iranian accounts posing as Scots

Deepak Gupta January 21, 2022
Updated 2022/01/21 at 6:24 AM

Facebook shut down a network of fake accounts that pretended to be English and Scottish locations, but were actually an Iran-based influence operation. The company detailed the removals in its last report in inauthentic behavior coordinated on your platform.

The network was relatively small — eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts — though it had amassed around 77,000 followers, according to the company. Facebook security researchers didn’t say exactly who in Iran was behind the effort or what their motives were, but they said some of the people involved had “experience in teaching English as a foreign language.”

“This network has posted photos and memes in English about current events in the UK, including supportive comments about Scottish independence and criticism of the UK government,” Facebook writes in its report. In a call with reporters, Facebook’s global IO threat intelligence leader Ben Nimmo said it’s not the first time the company has caught fake accounts linked to Iran targeting Scotland, but that the latest network has stood out for his “artisanal” approach to false personas.

“What was unique about this case was the effort the operators put in to make their fakes look like real people,” Nimmo said. He noted that the accounts spent considerable time posting about their “secondary interests” such as football in an attempt to boost their credibility. Some of the accounts have also taken up profile pictures of real celebrities or media personalities and regularly updated the images to look more real. Other accounts used fake photos generated by AI programs.

Overall, Facebook says the fake accounts weren’t particularly successful, as the most popular account only reached around 4,000 followers, about half of whom were located in the UK. “In some ways, this is more like an old-fashioned pre-internet influence operation, creating detailed fake personas and trying not to get noticed,” Nimmo said.

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