American technology companies are stepping up their efforts to combat disinformation campaigns in US elections by foreign governments. As reported by the New York Times, Google said on Thursday August 23rd that it had removed 39 YouTube channels linked to Iran’s state broadcaster.
Google’s announcement follows Facebook’s revelation of far-reaching Iranian and Russian disinformation campaigns on its social network two days earlier. Twitter has also announced its deletion of similarly linked accounts.
A blog post published by Google, which owns YouTube, said that the 39 deleted YouTube channels had been linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It discovered those accounts after a tip from the cybersecurity firm FireEye about a handful of suspicious Google accounts.
Google terminated those accounts, along with six blogs on its Blogger service and 13 Google+ social media accounts, for running a campaign from January 2017 while disguising its connection to Iran, said Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs.
Google said that “relevant videos” on the 39 now-deleted YouTube channels had 13,466 total views in the United States — a relatively small number for YouTube. It did not define what constitutes a relevant video.
However, FireEye gave several examples of deceptive videos in a report it recently published about Iran’s activities. For example, an account called Liberty Front Press — which Google said it had deleted earlier in the week — featured videos with titles like “Rudy Giuliani: Mueller probe now illegitimate” and “New C.I.A. chief followed the law, served the country.” FireEye reports that Iran’s misinformation campaigns have been aimed at audiences in the United States, Britain, Latin America and the Middle East.
All the YouTube channels cited by FireEye were shut down over the last few weeks, said Rob Shilkin, a Google spokesman.
Facebook said on August 21st that it had deleted 652 accounts, many of them with Iranian ties. A number of those accounts had been sharing content from Liberty Front Press.
These campaigns are part of a growing effort by state-sponsored actors to use the social media platforms of American companies for politically motivated purposes.