New York Times Journalist Targeted By Sockpuppet Accounts

The New York Times issued a statement last week standing by one of their journalists, Farnaz Fassihi, who, for months, has “faced vile threats and attacks” on Twitter:

Social media platforms have been revolutionary in that they have given voices to those who otherwise may not have gotten their stories out. Yet today, these same platforms are increasingly being used to intimidate, harass, attack, and character assassinate journalists, activists, and members of civil society across the world.

The goal behind these efforts is to silence dissenting thought. Indeed, many who have been the victims of said attacks, have opted to self-censor — going dark on social media rather than using it to distribute their voices and amplify their sentiments.

For example, NBC News’ Olivia Solon recently wrote about how female journalists and activists had their private photos hacked and then dumped/leaked on Twitter, which were then amplified by bots and sockpuppet accounts, in addition to being shared by authentic accounts.

Farashgard

Farashgard, also known as Iran Revival, is a political action network that champions the downfall of the Iranian regime and return of monarchy (and where they have rallied behind former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi). The group was founded in September 2018 and its founding members consist of 40 Iranian activists across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Iran.

Farashgard, like several other Iranian opposition groups, are very well versed in platform manipulation. Social Forensics has documented this behavior, which spans from using inauthentic accounts to game hashtags to trend to harassment/character assassination, for years.

A common trait among Farashgard accounts that engage in platform manipulation is the presence of a crown in their profiles.

For example, the Sia Ayrom account (@siaayrom), which has tweeted more than a half million times (equating to 110 tweets per day, on average, since the account was created in February 2009), can be seen below amplifying a sockpuppet account (@abo_imbecile) that attempts to deflect from the attacks against Fassihi:

The same account (@siaayrom) unsuccessfully attempted to discredit data shared by Social Forensics in January 2019 that pointed to how the #WeSupportPolandSummit hashtag was being manipulated by coordinated inauthentic behavior:

You Be The Judge

For the past several days (since NYT issued a statement standing behind their journalist), Fassihi has been (even more aggressively) swarmed and attacked 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.

Social Forensics, with very minimal effort (i.e. this stuff should be a piece of cake for a company like Twitter to tackle), identified nearly 1,400 accounts that include a crown in their profiles and that are connected to the Iranian Twittersphere. Those my be found here.

Included among said accounts are a number of hyperactive tweeting accounts (defined here as accounts that have, on average, tweeted more than 100 times per day since being created):

Accounts include: @YI_Senpai_IY, @_Lagerthaaa_, @abanseah2, @ShiraziShaheen, @TahsinZhaleh, @Malake_azadi, @Banuyetehrani, @sermehhh, @sho_ber, @sushiant110, @RIVNIZ_99, @katayoun2577, @ghasedak189, @siaayrom, @sushiant10, @Javidan1234, @IranPahlaviKurd, @Nastara99638495, @AzadehKhorasan, @KiMo10626877

Based on a number of factors — including the network topology (i.e. how said accounts are connected in terms of Followers/Following) — the vast majority of accounts included among the 1,400 are in violation of Twitter Rules.

The Iranian Twittersphere will remain a toxic place for Fassihi and other Iranian-American women should Twitter continue to ignore such blatant violations of their rules.

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.

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