Over a span of several months, Iranian agents infiltrated Israeli activists’ encrypted messaging apps, sending controversial content and directly messaging members in an apparent effort to stir up trouble and make community members wary of one another, according to a report by Israeli disinformation watchdog group FakeReporter.
Director Achiya Schatz told The New York Times: “What was so smart and unprecedented about this was the way they moved through small group chats where no one would expect to find an Iranian agent. They really gained people’s trust and slipped under the radar of Facebook, Twitter, and all the other tech companies.”
It took anywhere from weeks to months before the Iranians’ poor grammar and reluctance to meeting in person or speaking via telephone led the Israeli activists to report the Iranian accounts to FakeReporter.
A Shin Bet officer told The New York Times the intelligence agency had opened its own investigation into the disinformation campaign upon learning of it from FakeReporter.
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, removed several WhatsApp accounts tied to Iran after The New York Times contacted it about the evidence collected by FakeReporter. Confirming the accounts were tied to Iranian content the company removed earlier this year, a spokeswoman for the tech giant said: “Iranian-based threat actors are some of the more persistent and well-resourced groups attempting to operate online, including on our platform.”
While many countries are believed to engage in such campaigns, FakeReporter was the first to demonstrate just how regimes penetrate small online communities as well as how disinformation campaigns operate on encrypted apps.
Similar campaigns could be underway in the United States, American intelligence agencies have warned. Last week, the US Justice Department announced it was blocking access to dozens of websites linked to Iranian disinformation campaigns. A US intelligence official told The New York Times authorities were keeping an eye on private messaging apps for such efforts.
Source » israelhayom