EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Twitter propaganda

Antisemitic tweets are being used to grow support for the Iranian regime


Antisemitic tweets are being used as part of an orchestrated campaign on social media to build support for the Iranian regime, new research reveals.

A study by the Online Antisemitism Campaign Taskforce reveals how randomised twitter accounts, many of which are bots, are piggy-backing on the topic of antisemitism to celebrate suicide bombers and terrorist groups known for their pro-Iranian sympathies.

A second wave of fake accounts, which do not glorify violence, have also been set up to like and share the tweets of those that do – in a bid to normalise acts of terror and expand support for Islamic extremists on-line among more moderate Twitter users.

The results of the study have been branded “shocking” by one of the world’s leading experts on antisemitism who urged Twitter and social media giants to clean up platforms being used to glorify terror and violence.

Analysts at the taskforce studied more than 800 accounts mostly created in 2020 which share a series of common themes.

The accounts were chosen because the names of ‘holders’ are a series of random letters, numbers and characters – a strong indication of bot activity.

The accounts, written in Arabic, reveal strong support for Iran or organisations allied to the Iranian regime.

The study finds these indicate “a concerted effort pursued by Iran or pro-Iranian groups to export its revolutionary ideology and expand its influence in almost every corner of the Middle East region”.

Full of antisemitic language, many of the accounts glorify violence: praising suicide bombers and calling for assassinations of high profile political leaders.

Others avoid such direct glorification but like or share the tweets of other accounts that do.   Researchers believe this is designed to spread the influence of more extremists views among more moderate Twitter users in the Middle East.

This, the study concludes, is “indicative of a wider operational scheme pursued by Iran or pro-Iranian groups dedicated to wielding influence, maintaining political support and shaping the narrative”.

Researchers used analytical software to detect patterns in the data which revealed two main groups from which the accounts originated.

The first set of accounts was traced back to Palestinian territories with language, themes and imagery closely associated with Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

A quarter of the 800 accounts reviewed celebrated violent extremism and heaped praise on both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

A further 45 were used to support the violent accounts, posting comments, liking and sharing tweets.  

The report says: “The purpose of these accounts is to render bold, violent accounts more popular, as well as to capture the attention of individuals who would be less interested in aggressive content.

“By providing a conceptual ‘buffer’ these accounts can reach a wider audience, including moderates or individuals who would be less susceptible to propaganda material.”

Among the accounts including violent, extremist content there was celebration for ‘martyrs’ including suicide bombers and plane hijackers.

The vast majority showed open support for militant organisations such as Palestine Islamic Jihad, an Iran-affiliated group operating in Gaza, and Hamas.

These accounts also includes a second tier of recurring tweets marking anniversary dates, such as terror attacks or the deaths of prominent terrorist leaders.

The research includes the example of a “large scale PR campaign” which focused on the hunger strike of a senior PIJ official – bus bomber xxx

The report explains: “The overwhelming majority of accounts use the same photos, graphics, hashtags and symbolism when tweeting about him in an effort to reinforce ‘us versus them’ narratives, inflame long-dormant hatred and create massive groundswells of popular opinion.”

A second wave of accounts originated in Yemen and promoted support for the Ansar-Allah movement, a Houthi group which seeks to overthrown the current government.

One commonly recurring tweet declares: “Allah is great.  Death to America. Death to Israel.  A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam.”

Antisemitic conspiracy theories are central to the Houthi ideology, with many tweets claiming that Jews were behind the current war in Yemen.

One reads: “The aim of the aggression on Yemen was not to return it to the Arab embrace, as the brawlers and their offspring claim, but rather to take it to the arms of the Jews.”

These accounts often include the symbols of Ansar Allah while others feature pictures of leading Iranian mullahs.

Other countries from which accounts were launched include Iraq, which hosts a number of Iranian militant and political groups as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Lebanon also plays a major role, with a number of pro-Hezbollah accounts promoting support of terrorist leaders.

Researchers found 67 accounts from this country that featured violent extremist language and the symbols and imagery of the Iranian-affiliated Hezbollah.

Based in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a Shiite political and militant group through which Iran funds cultural, religious, educational and reconstruction projects.

Operating as a ‘state within a state’ Hezbollah’s presence undermines and weakness the Lebanese state structure and is so powerful it is capable of bringing the government to a standstill.

Many of the accounts originating from Lebanon include praise for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Researchers also noted that given the already huge influence of Hezbollah within Lebanon, there was clearly little need for the second wave supporting accounts to help normalise extremism among more moderate Twitter uses in the country.

These accounts too contain multiple antisemitic posts and threats to Jews.

One writes: “God’s curse on the unbelieving Jews.”

Another: “I call on Jews who came to Palestine to leave it because in any new war, they’ll have no time.”

There are also accounts affiliated with Egypt that do not incite or promote violence but support and bolster accounts that do.

Commenting on the study, Kim Robin Stoller, chairman of the International Institute for Education and Research on Antisemitism, said: “The results are shocking. An in-depth analysis revealed the extent of the pro-Iranian terrorist propaganda network with a reach of millions of people.

“It is alarming that Twitter and other major tech companies do not remove this kind of incitement to terrorism and continue to provide a platform for it.

“Big tech companies must start seriously removing content that incites terrorism and supports terrorist groups.”

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