Scottish election 2021: Iranian regime 'peddling disinformation' in attempt to swing Scottish election

A new report has warned that Iran is ‘peddling disinformation’ via social media in an attempt to destabilise the UK by influencing the Scottish election in favour of pro-independence parties.

Reported by The Times, cyber specialists working on behalf of the Iranian regime are targeting Scottish voters by posing as pro-independence users on Twitter and Facebook.

The study by the Henry Jackson Society think tank reported that fake accounts encourage real users to share content and material of a pro-independence nature in the form of memes, graphics and cartoons with their friends and contact on the sites.

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Fake websites have also been set up, designed to influence the campaign by tricking internet users as part of a wider disinformation campaign from Iran.

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The society has said that the Iranian regime's efforts are similar to that of Russia – designed to instil chaos, uncertainty and division to weaken their adversaries.

The report said that the increasing presence of Iranian disinformation was an attempt by the regime to “attack the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom”.

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It concluded: “Iran has shown itself to be a country which engages in Russian-style disinformation campaigns, repeatedly establishing fake websites and internet accounts in an effort to disrupt the political systems of liberal democracies.

"Judged within this context, Iran is almost certainly looking to disrupt our current elections, most likely those under way for the Scottish assembly.”

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A new report suggests that the Iranian regime is 'peddling disinformation' in attempt to swing Scottish election.
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The report is part of an investigation into the Iranian regime’s attempts to interfere with foreign politics and elections.

It included that while the majority of the activity targets Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been an increasing amount of effort targeting Scotland over the past year.

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It also states that the activity is carried out by “agents” who act on behalf of the regime meaning that its leaders are able to deny responsibility and avoid repercussions.

Fake accounts set up by 'agents' on behalf of the Iranian regime target voters and encourage them to share pro-independence content with their friends and social media contacts. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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The study noted that “Iran has become increasingly sophisticated in both the scope and choice of its target” with the author of the report, Dr Paul Stott, saying that in terms of cyber capabilities, Iran should no longer be considered a “third tier” country.

Social media sites Twitter and Facebook are proactively trying to identify and ban “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” by regimes such as Iran.

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One of the accounts recently closed down by Facebook was a fake Iranian persona which had shared material “mocking the Scottish Conservatives”.

It was one of 446 accounts closed by the site for violating its policies against foreign interference, according to its February 2021 Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour Report.

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Questioned about the study by the Henry Jackson Society think tank on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the Government was “unwilling to comment on national security issues of this type”.

However he said the Government did have serious concerns about Iran’s “destabilising behaviour” in the Middle East and more broadly.

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He added: “How the international community responds to these kinds of accusations or concerns about cyber actions will be one of the things on the agenda of the G7 meeting that the Foreign Secretary will be hosting with foreign ministers from our economic and international partners.”

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