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Lebanese Activist Warns Of Iran-Backed Efforts To Suppress Anti-Proxy Voices

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A Lebanese commentator and economic analyst has warned of coordinated operations of an Iran-backed “cyber army” to silence anti-Hamas and anti-Hezbollah voices on X.

The pro-Iranian cyber army is “gaming the platform’s limited moderation controls in English and especially Arabic to suppress criticism and amplify their own narrative,” wrote Geneva-based Samara Azzi in the “Fikra Forum” section of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy website.

Referring to the “unprecedented” level of misinformation about the world conflicts, particularly the war in Gaza, Azzi warned that the attempts to report false information and misattributed videos on Arabic X runs the risk of confronting the reactions of the cyber army of the “axis of resistance,” including the supporters of the Islamic Republic’s proxy groups in the region such as Hamas, Hashd al-Shaabi and Hezbollah.

In the case of marking posts and comments critical of the “axis of resistance,” Iran’s regional militias, pro-Iran users will report them in a coordinated manner in an attempt to shadow ban, block and eventually de-platform activists, she added, further stressing that the cyber army is fed upon “the deep pockets of their Iranian backers.”

Ever since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict on October 7, activists, politicians and security experts have warned of the alarming level of misinformation on social media. On October 30, the Associated Press reported a “flood” of misinformation regarding the war, saying that it is not easy for users “to sort fact from fiction.”

“In the fog of war, rumors and lies are especially dangerous, capable of taking on the veneer of fact and affecting decisions,” warned a New York Times article published on Thursday.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a ceremony to mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in a US attack, in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Lebanon January 3, 2024.

Samara Azzi stated that the situation is further exacerbated for Arabic users of X as they face both a misinformation campaign and a coordinated pro-Iran cyber army. The unwholesome result is self-censoring for many users as they choose to avoid making controversial remarks so as not to incur the wrath of Hezbollah and Hamas sympathizers, she stated.

Azzi also took to task X’s “moderation failures,” accusing some of the platform’s Arabic language moderators of backing pro-Iran proxy groups. According to her, several workers in X’s MENA offices in Dubai have voiced their support for the Free Patriotic Movement, a Lebanese political party and a Hezbollah ally.

There have been reports of a similar problem in other social networks as well. In 2022, three human rights groups called on Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, to alter its Persian-language content review procedures for Iran. The groups voiced their concerns over the company censoring content by Iranian dissidents and democracy advocates.

Some Iranians also complained that their Instagram posts were being restricted. BBC’s sources then alleged that pro-regime employees of the German branch of Telus International, a Canadian contractor which provides content moderation to Instagram, are responsible for restricting anti-government content of Iranian users.

Azzi also criticized X for allowing Hezbollah agents to operate freely in the platform, saying they tweet with impunity.

Much to our dismay, things have only worsened regarding the representation of Middle Eastern politics after Elon Musk bought Twitter, she noted, adding, “There is also little clarity about what future efforts will be undertaken to address this issue.”