Facebook says it has removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to an Iranian exile group that posted content critical of Iran's government.
The accounts were supportive of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic, Facebook said on April 6.
Facebook determined that the more than 300 accounts, pages, and groups on Facebook and Instagram it had removed were being run from a single location in Albania by a group of individuals working on behalf of MEK.
The network of fake accounts was most active in 2017 and again in late 2020, the company said.
The National Council for Resistance in Iran, an umbrella group that includes MEK, said that no accounts affiliated with it or MEK have been removed.
The United States considered the MEK a terrorist group until 2012. Its designation was removed following a lobbying campaign and pledges to end its violent militancy.
While not successful in building significant audiences, Facebook said the operation appeared to be a “tightly organized troll farm” in which people were paid to post content that was often misinformation to social media.
Among the clues that led to the conclusion was that the activity seemed to follow the European workday. The number of posts, for example, began picking up after 9 a.m. and slowed around lunch time.
“Even trolls need to eat,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads Facebook's global threat intelligence operation, told reporters on a conference call.
Facebook also noted that some of the fake accounts used photos of Iranian celebrities or deceased dissidents. A small number of the Instagram accounts appear to have used profile pictures that were computer generated.
Facebook said it has disrupted seven operations since 2019 that used such photos and it will continue to refine its enforcement.
“We know that influence operations will keep evolving in response to our enforcement, and new deceptive behaviors will emerge,” it said.