How Iran spreads disinformation across borders



A Tehran-based agency has quietly fed propaganda through at least 70 websites to countries from Afghanistan to Russia. And American firms have helped, according to a special Reuters investigation:

Website Nile Net Online promises Egyptians “true news” from its offices in the heart of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, “to expand the scope of freedom of expression in the Arab world.” …. Until recently, Nile Net Online had more than 115,000 page-followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But its contact telephone numbers, including one listed as 0123456789, don’t work. A Facebook map showing its location dropped a pin onto the middle of the street, rather than any building. And regulars at the square, including a newspaper stallholder and a policeman, say they have never heard of the website. The reason: Nile Net Online is part of an influence operation based in Tehran.

It’s one of more than 70 websites found by Reuters which push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, in an operation that cybersecurity experts, social media firms and journalists are only starting to uncover. The sites found by Reuters are visited by more than half a million people a month, and have been promoted by social media accounts with more than a million followers.

Farhad Meysami and Nasrin Sotoudeh

UN human rights experts have called on Iran to release human rights defenders – including Nasrin Sotoudeh (right) – and lawyers who have been jailed for publicly supporting protests against the compulsory hijab in Iran, RFE/RL reports.

“We urge the government to immediately release all those who have been imprisoned for promoting and protecting the rights of women,”the experts said in a November 29 statement. The experts said they’re particularly alarmed at “the critical health” of Farhad Meysami, a medical doctor who was detained in July for supporting women protesting against the hijab law that forces them to cover their hair and body in public.

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