BAGHDAD - This series of articles investigates the production and dissemination of fake news to sow instability in Iraq and the Middle East. It reveals how Iraqi (terrorist) groups are paying Facebook millions to churn out fake news, and gives an inside look in Hezbollah's fake news training camps.

Iraqi groups paying Facebook millions to churn out fake news

In a first article in The Telegraph the journalists reveal that an Iraqi terrorist group is transferring huge amounts of money directly to Facbook to boost the exposure of its fake news posts.

After all the scrutiny Facebook has had over recent years – it is still receiving direct payments worth millions of dollars from political disinformation groups that include a listed terrorist entity.

One of the biggest groups in Iraq that is paying large sums of money to Facebook to boost the profile of its messages through networks of false accounts is Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Japan and the US.

Sources that have worked with Kata'ib Hezbollah told the journalists that it has around 400 individuals working in its digital propaganda team – and it controlled thousands of fake accounts and pages.

Political researcher Ruwayda Mustafah: “What has been exposed here is just a tiny fraction of what is actually going on in Iraq. Political organisations are spending millions of dollars with Facebook in order to present fake news using fake accounts.”

Fadi al-Shimari, a leader of Ammar al-Hakim's Al-Hekma party: “Even ministers and officials have their own electronic armies. It’s like an arms race. Whoever pays more will get the most skilled operators to either promote them or to attack their enemies.”

The impact of Iraq’s “electronic armies” and mass manipulation of Facebook networks shouldn’t be underestimated. Failure to clamp down on these networks is hugely damaging to efforts to stabilise Iraq and negatively impacts the lives of millions of Iraqis.

Inside Hizbollah's fake news training camps

In a second article Crisp and al-Salhy reval that terrorist organisation Hezbollah has trained thousands of Iran-backed social media activists, helping create so-called “electronic armies” across the region.

Since at least 2012, Hezbollah has been flying individuals into Lebanon for courses teaching participants how to digitally manipulate photographs, manage large numbers of fake social media accounts, make videos, avoid Facebook’s censorship, and effectively spread disinformation online.

Students have come from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria.

The camps highlight Iran’s malign influence in the region, and the lengths it is willing to go to spread its revolutionary ideology around an increasingly fractured Middle East, analysts say.

The false news stories published on social media for political ends regularly result in serious consequences, including violent clashes and loss of life. More generally, the use of disinformation to disrupt and erode the truth is largely aimed at making people lose confidence in the truth as well as energising negative sentiment around particular issues.

Team members

Wil Crisp

Wil Crisp is a freelance journalist that has worked for news organisations including Bloomberg, The Times, The Independent, the BBC, Sky News and The Guardian.

Wil Crisp

Suadad al-Salhy

Suadad al-Salhy is a freelance journalist that has worked for global news organisations covering politics and security in Iraq.

Suadad al-Salhy
€11.610 allocated on 21 November 2019

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