Iranian-American Female Journalists Targeted Online Via Coordinated Campaigns
A closer look into a college professor/Harvard law grad driving the attacks
In August 2021, I wrote about New York Times journalist, Farnaz Fassihi, being targeted on Twitter by sockpuppet accounts that artificially amplify the content of authentic accounts, while also attempting to character assassinate her simply for doing her job — namely, reporting on Iran.
Unfortunately, Twitter continues to allow such attacks to continue, despite very clear violations of their Terms of Service.
Fast forward to now, where Negar Mortazavi, another Iranian-American female journalist, is similarly being targeted in a coordinated fashion — and where said efforts are (largely) being driven by University of Toronto Mississauga employee, Kaveh Shahrooz, a Harvard law grad that resides in Canada:
Shahrooz, one of the more active non-sockpuppet accounts that similarly has targeted Fassihi (alleging both are part of the Iran Lobby), opts to hide behind thousands of fake Twitter Followers, which not only inflate his Followers count, but also function to artificially amplify the content of his tweets:
In addition to being employed by the University of Toronto Mississauga as their Director of Legal and Partnerships, Shahrooz’s role at the university extends to teaching a “4th year course on international human rights law and institutions” as an adjunct professor:
The hypocrisy of Shahrooz teaching a university course focused on human rights — while simultaneously seeking to silence the voices of Iranian-American female journalists — should not go unnoticed.
Inflated Followers Count
The Platform Manipulation & Spam Policy section of Twitter’s Terms of Service (ToS) asserts “You can’t artificially inflate your own or others’ followers or engagement:”
Shahrooz’s Twitter account, as of 2p eastern time on Oct 24th, 2022, reflects having 21.1K Followers:
Using the Wayback Machine, we can see that Shahrooz’s Twitter account, as of Sep 26th, 2022, reflected having 10.9K Followers:
Translated: Shahrooz’s account has gained more than 10K Followers in the last 30 days
This may also be seen via Social Blade, a site that tracks social media statistics and analytics:
Since Jan 2019 — with the exception of Jan 2020 & Sep 2022 — Shahrooz’s account has gained an average of 175 Followers per month:
Hence, Shahrooz’s account gaining 10K+ Followers in the last 30 days raises red flags.
An in-depth review of Shahrooz’s most recent followers reveals the vast majority of them to be accounts that violate Twitter’s ToS — a mix of bots (i.e. automated accounts) and sockpuppets/personas that violate various Twitter Rules (inflating followers count, coordinated artificial amplification & abusive behavior, among others).
Generally, but not always, accounts that engage at hyperactive levels — defined here as tweeting more than 100 times per day and/or liking more than 100 tweets per day — are leveraging automation to do so.
“Bots” are defined as accounts that leverage automation *all* the time, whereas “cyborgs” are defined as accounts that *sometimes* leverage automation (partially automated, partially controlled by human).
Using automation/bots in and of itself is not a violation of Twitter Rules.
When automation/bots are being used to engage in “behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter,” however, that is against Twitter’s ToS:
Among Shahrooz’s 21.1K Followers, Social Forensics has identified:
- 436 accounts that have, on average since being created, tweeted 100 or more times per day
- 1,024 accounts that have, on average since being created, liked 100 or more tweets per day
- 344 accounts that have, on average since being created, tweeted 100 or more times per day AND liked 100 or more tweets per day
Of the 344 accounts referenced above, 290 of them were created in Sep or Oct 2022 (view accounts here).
Below are 40 examples of Shahrooz’s Followers that have, on average since being created, liked 100 or more tweets and that have tweeted at least 460 times per day:
These accounts all amplify the same accounts and hashtags, indicative of a script/automation being used to mislead others (gaming hashtags to trend, for example) and disrupting the experience for Twitter users that Shahrooz opts to tag in his tweets (i.e. brigading the tagged users via bombarding their Twitter notifications).
Translated: Many of the accounts functioning to inflate Shahrooz’s Followers count are also being used to artificially amplify content/hashtags (i.e. they are being used to manipulate and disrupt people’s experience on Twitter)
The Abusive Behavior section of Twitter’s Terms of Service (ToS) states “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice:”
Shahrooz frequently — and going back several years — has alleged that a number of Iranian-American female journalists (among others!) are agents of the Iranian regime, simply because their reporting does not align with his political ideology.
Below are recent examples (all within the past 24 hours) of Shahrooz mentioning or quote tweeting his targets, which effectively renders the targeted users’ Twitter accounts useless while their notifications are being bombarded by hordes of inauthentic accounts retweeting, liking, and replying to his tweets:
OK, So What’s Your Point?
Twitter’s ToS states: “On Twitter, you should feel safe expressing your unique point of view. We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up.”
New York Times journalist, Farnaz Fassihi, for example, has not tweeted for the past ~30 days.
Fassihi’s last tweet was a reply sent on Sep 25th, that resulted in 40 replies to her tweet — ALL of which involve inauthentic accounts harassing Fassihi:
It seems reasonable to assume that Fassihi has opted to self-censor herself vs. continue using Twitter’s platform where she has been harassed for years:
Until Twitter’s Trust & Safety Team shows they can actually enforce their own rules, a platform where “freedom of expression and open dialogue” are core tenets will never be a reality.
Social Forensics maps and monitors social connections and activity.
We create purposefully designed tools to manage social data analytics needs across various industries. Our focus is audience segmentation and identifying coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) across social media platforms.
Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies.
Geoff is the Founder/CEO/Janitor of Social Forensics.