US media is reporting on an Iranian disinformation campaign targeting Israeli activists on private communication apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and other encrypted chat apps. According to a New York Times article:
June 30, 2021 On June 13, as Benjamin Netanyahu ended his decade-long run as Israel’s prime minister, a Telegram channel dedicated to protesting him hummed with celebration. “And now prison, go to prison,” read a short message below a photoshopped image of Mr. Netanyahu behind bars. The 7,000 followers of the Telegram channel quickly spread the message to other groups and social media apps. The channel and the message were secretly part of an Iranian disinformation campaign, according to Israeli disinformation researchers. Over several months, Iranian agents had infiltrated small WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels and messaging apps that Israeli activists used for intimate discussions among dozens to thousands of people.
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The article notes that the Iranian operation is one of the first examples of miniaturized disinformation campaigns focusing on smaller communication apps instead of broad audiences on Facebook or Twitter in order to stay under the radar of tech companies.
The campaign was first discovered by the Israeli disinformation watchdog FakeReporter which published an extensive report on Iran’s cross-platform influence operation.
Recent GIOR coverage of Iranian social media influence operations has included:
- In July, we reported that Iran is intensifying its disinformation campaign on social media to spread discord and anti-Semitic tropes in the US.
- In June, we reported that German authorities are preparing against foreign influence operations ahead of federal elections, having identified Iran as a “principal actor” carrying out cyber attacks against Germany.
- In April, we reported that Facebook removed a network of Iranian fake accounts targeting Israel, the UK, Iraq, and Afghanistan for violating its policy against foreign interference.