Facebook removes pro-Scottish independence page linked to Iran

A Facebook page backing Scottish independence has been deleted after it was found to be one of hundreds of fake accounts set up in Iran.

Pages called Free Scotland 2014 and The British Left shared posts about, Scotland leaving the UK Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, Boris Johnson and the Queen while others discussed Donald Trump’s presidency and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Free Scotland 2014 had more than 200,000 followers before it was removed in a Facebook purge which saw the eradication of 652 accounts.

READ MORE: SNP defends £93,000 spend on Facebook to target votes

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The social media giant’s removal of the false pages, groups and accounts which targeted UK politics is “the tip of the iceberg”, according to the chairman of the parliamentary fake news inquiry.

A pro independence Facebook page was one of hundreds of fake accounts linked to Iran. Pictures: TSPL/Creative CommonsA pro independence Facebook page was one of hundreds of fake accounts linked to Iran. Pictures: TSPL/Creative Commons
A pro independence Facebook page was one of hundreds of fake accounts linked to Iran. Pictures: TSPL/Creative Commons

Conservative MP Damian Collins called for greater transparency from Facebook after the social network announced late on Tuesday it had removed more than 650 accounts linked to Iran which had posed as news organisations or grassroots activists.

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“They’ve found a few hundred here or there targeting the UK and US and there were 30,000 removed close to the French election, but my concern is that this would be the tip of the iceberg,” Mr Collins said.

An internal investigation by the world’s biggest social network found four groups across Facebook and Instagram which spent thousands of pounds on advertising and had hundreds of thousands of followers.

The activity, some of which dates back to 2011, included spreading political messages and attempting to hack other people’s accounts or spread malware, according to Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.

Writing on the company’s blog, Nathaniel Gleischer said: “We’ve removed 652 pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behaviour that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services in the Middle East, Latin America, UK and US.”

Separate activity from Russia which targeted politics in Syria and Ukraine was also removed, he said.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

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“With pages in particular it should be clear to users from which country that is being operated from,” said Mr Collins.

“Users should also know whether the person operating the page is deliberately hiding their identity,” he added.

Facebook increased transparency around the history of certain pages and political advertising earlier this year after whistleblowers revealed Russian agents and controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica targeted voters during the 2016 US election and the Brexit vote.

In July, the Electoral Commission fined official Brexit campaign group Vote Leave and reported senior figures to the police for breaking electoral law with Facebook adverts targeting voters in the build-up to the EU referendum in 2016.

“We’ll see more of this activity between now and the US mid-term elections (in November). But Facebook has not really been investing in looking at this activity and the problem is probably much larger than we’ve seen,” said Mr Collins.

Cybersecurity firm FireEye first alerted Facebook to a network of pages operating under the name Liberty Front Press, posing as “news and civil society organisations”.