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Reddit users shared thousands of links from fake Iranian news sites



iran flagREUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

  • Reddit users shared links from fake sites thought to
    stem from an Iranian disinformation campaign.
  • The links came from six sites exposed by security firm
    FireEye as hoaxes, rather than the genuine British and American
    news sites they appeared to be.
  • Reddit users shared the links hundreds of thousands of
    times across popular communities with millions of
  • It isn’t clear whether the accounts sharing the
    material were all suspect, but most remain active on Reddit as
    of Wednesday morning.

Reddit users shared thousands of links to fake sites that have
now been exposed as part of a misinformation campaign from Iran.

We first became aware that Reddit was populated with the fake
site links after it was pointed out by systems administrator Josh
Russell on Twitter.

Business Insider’s own further analysis found that Reddit users
shared links to articles from six websites flagged by
cybersecurity firm FireEye as part of a sophisticated influence
operation, likely originating in Iran.

FireEye said on Monday that it had found many social media
accounts associated with the six sites across Twitter, Facebook,
Google+, YouTube, and Instagram.
Twitter and Facebook
they had removed hundreds of accounts relating to the Iranian

The six websites were Liberty Front Press, US Journal, Real
Progressive Front, British Left, Critics Chronicle, and Instituto
Manquehue, all of which purported to be legitimate news sources.

Reddit Iran
Reddit users shared links
from all six websites flagged as part of an Iranian
misinformation campaign. Here’s a set of links from Liberty Front
Press, one of the fake sources.

Ghosh/Business Insider

A search for each website domain on Reddit shows that users
posted thousands of links to popular communities such as
r/worldnews, which has 19 million subscribers, r/news with 16
million subscribers, and r/atheism which has more than 2 million

In some cases, several of the links to fake sites were “upvoted”
by thousands of users, making them more visible and widely read.

redditscreenshotShona Ghosh/Business Insider

Links were also posted to popular communities known for pushing
an agenda, such as the generally pro-Trump r/conspiracy, the
left-leaning r/esist, and the anti-Trump r/MarchAgainstTrump.

Not everything posted was fake news — rather the stories were
clearly designed to push an agenda. For example, a true story
about a British Airways stewardess being captured on camera going
on a racist rant was posted on the fake website RPFront, and then
to the r/racism community. According to FireEye, most of the
sites favoured political stances in that Iranian interest.

Here’s what FireEye said:

“Broadly speaking, the intent behind this activity appears to be
to promote Iranian political interests, including anti-Saudi,
anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as the
advocation for specific U.S. political stances favorable to Iran,
such as support for the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). While in
the context of the U.S.-focused activity, this also includes
significant anti-Trump messaging and the alignment of social
media personas with an American liberal identity, it is important
to note that the activity extends well beyond U.S. audiences and
U.S. politics.”

It isn’t clear how many of the users posting links to fake sites
might have been aware they were part of a disinformation
campaign, and how many may have been fake accounts. One of the
most prolific posters of fake site links, PeterJackson2050,
remains active on the site at the time of writing.

Business Insider has contacted Reddit for comment.

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