SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook said Thursday it took down hundreds of "inauthentic" accounts from Iran that were part of a vast manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries.
The world's biggest social network said it removed 783 pages, groups and accounts "for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran."
The pages were part of a campaign to promote Iranian interests in various countries by creating fake identities as residents of those nations, according to a statement by Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook.
The announcement was the latest by Facebook as it seeks to stamp out efforts by state actors and others to manipulate the social network using fraudulent accounts.
"We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don't want our services to be used to manipulate people," Gleicher said.
"We're taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action."
The operators "typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events," including "commentary that repurposed Iranian state media's reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen," Gleicher said.
"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review linked these accounts to Iran."
The operation dating back to as early as 2010 had 262 pages, 356 accounts, and three groups on Facebook, as well as 162 accounts on Instagram and were followed by about two million users.
Facebook said the fake accounts were part of an influence campaign that operated in Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, U.S., and Yemen.
Facebook began looking into these kinds of activities after revelations of Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 U.S. election, aimed at sowing discord.