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A nation must think before it acts.
January 29, 2020
Post by Clint Watts and Rachel Chernaskey
Social media influence and disinformation out of the Islamic Republic of Iran is nothing new. Over the past decade, Iran has developed—and maintained—a significant information operations capability. After the Green Revolution exploded on Twitter in 2009, the regime rapidly expanded its social media monitoring and influence capabilities. Since then, Facebook and Twitter have repeatedly suspended accounts and pages attributed to Iran, and the recent killing of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani offered a spate of examples in how Iran uses information warfare to discredit, confuse and sow chaos. We here at FPRI believe we experienced some of Iran’s disinformation campaigns in the last month.
Iran’s overt and covert influence operations
Iranian disinformation exhibits many parallels to Russian disinformation. The regime employs a range of overt state-sponsored news services that broadcast in foreign languages, hacks to defame its adversaries and deploys fake social media personas designed to look and talk like the audiences they seek to infiltrate and influence. But Iran’s influence differs from the Kremlin’s in a few ways:
Iranian discussions of the 2020 presidential candidates
To understand where, why, how and for whom Iran might interfere in the 2020 presidential election, FPRI’s Foreign Influence Election (FIE 2020) Project has examined the following question:
“What does Iranian state media say about the presidential candidates?”
The research team analyzed 2,137 PressTV articles published from January 1, 2019 to January 20, 2020. Those 2,137 stories hosted 2,917 mentions of candidates who’ve participated in the 2020 electoral process. The overwhelming majority (72%) of those mentions referenced President Trump. The remaining discussed the Democratic field of candidates, both those still in the race and not. In Figure 9 (below), we show candidates that received 50 mentions or more in PressTV articles and examine the ways in which they were discussed.
Below are some of the observations gleaned from data on Iranian articles: