Google removes 39 YouTube channels linked to Iranian influence operations

Google has identified and removed 39 YouTube channels, six blogs on Blogger and thirteen Google+ accounts linked to IRIB, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, which were leveraged in influence operations aimed at US, UK, and other audiences.

That’s in addition to the 42 YouTube channels and one blog on Blogger that have been terminated since last year as they were linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company engaged in online influence operations on behalf of Russian business and political interests.

Iranian influence operations

“Actors engaged in this type of influence operation violate our policies, and we swiftly remove such content from our services and terminate these actors’ accounts. Additionally, we use a number of robust methods, including IP blocking, to prevent individuals or entities in Iran from opening advertising accounts,” Google’s chief of global affairs Kent Walker explained.

“We’ve updated US lawmakers and law enforcement about the results of our investigation, including its relation to political content in the United States.”

Part of a broader action

The announcement comes a few days after Facebook announced the suspension of 652 pages, groups and accounts related to a coordinated Iranian misinformation campaign and Twitter’s suspension of 284 accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation”.

Facebook’s announcement contains examples of the content published on those pages and by those accounts.

All of these recent actions are apparently the result of internal investigations aided by FireEye experts, the results of which have been detailed by the latter in this report.

Google’s Walker shared some of the evidence that points in the direction of Iran: “Technical data associated with these actors is strongly linked to the official IRIB IP address space; domain ownership information about these actors is strongly linked to IRIB account information; and account metadata and subscriber information associated with these actors is strongly linked to the corresponding information associated with the IRIB, indicating common ownership and control.”

He also added that the findings are consistent with internet activity they’ve warned about in recent years from Iran, including phishing attempts against Gmail users.

“The activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse,” FireEye researchers pointed out.

“Our investigation also illustrates how the threat posed by such influence operations continues to evolve, and how similar influence tactics can be deployed irrespective of the particular political or ideological goals being pursued.”