>> Reuters has unearthed more than 70 websites which look like news outlets, but are actually channels for Iranian propaganda and fake news. It’s not clear who’s behind the sites, the Iranian government didn’t respond to questions. And previously when a smaller part of the network was revealed by cybersecurity firms Iran said it would be quote, ridiculous to allege a connection.
But the sites mostly target developing countries where Iran is vying for influence, places like Yemen. They're also viewed by over half a million people each month and their social media accounts have over a million active followers. Reuters correspondent Jack Stubbs explains the ramifications.>> Often people ask if influence operations actually have any real world impact.
And in the case of the Iranian campaign we can say yes, it has. This article is one of the best examples, for the Pakistan Defense Minister back in 2016. It falsely claims that Israel had said they would destroy Pakistan in a nuclear attack if Pakistan sent any troops to Syria.
If you check the article line by line you can see that there's a number of problems. This quote claims to be from a Pakistani politician, but actually was said by the UAE Foreign Minister. And, ironically, appears to have been taken from a Reuters article earlier the same year.
And the person named as Israel's Defense Minister in the article had actually stepped down from the position just a few months previously. But the article still created a diplomatic incident because the Pakistan Defense Minister took it seriously and Tweeted a nuclear threat back at Israel. The Minister, Khawaja Asif, eventually realized his mistake, he didn't know the Iranian campaign was behind the hoax until I contacted him earlier this year.
Some of the websites are actually pretty sloppy, this one even spells agency wrong in its own name. But all the websites found by Reuters are connected to an organization called the International Union of Virtual Media. Which says on its website it is an agency based in Tehran.>> Jack wasn't able to reach the International Union of Virtual Media or any of the fake sites for comment.
Contact info in online records were dead ends or fakes themselves, leading from the middle of Cairo's Tahrir Square to a youth hostel in Berlin. Staff at the hostel said they'd never heard of the sites. One website even listed an address, which turned out to be the location of this demolished home in Sudan.