Reddit Moderators Uncovered Vast Propaganda Effort From Iran State Media, Site Chose To Do Nothing About It

IgorGolovniovShutterstock

A new report has accused Reddit of ignoring the possible presence of Iran’s state media on the social news website, despite the efforts of a volunteer group to gather evidence of the “divisive” political content and report the matter to site officials.

According to a report from NBC News, the issue was first spotted more than a year ago, well before social media platforms Facebook and Twitter’s recent announcement of the discovery of a “new foreign influence campaign” on their websites, one that was linked to Iranian state media. The posts were discovered by California-based Reddit moderator Alex Brown and several volunteers, as the informal team used the publicly available information to deduce that the “divisive political rhetoric” being posted by several of the site’s members was linked to Iran.

After making their discovery, Brown’s team reportedly informed Reddit of the possible posts from Iran’s state media but heard nothing back from the website’s officials. This was in contrast to Facebook and Twitter, who used the data gathered by Brown and his fellow Reddit volunteers and announced on Tuesday that the websites monitored by the group were traceable to Iran and that accounts posting the sensitive propaganda were both banned and deleted from the services.

The NBC News report also took a look at the methodologies used by Brown and his team, as they collected website ownership data, then tracked other IP addresses with similar information to determine where the supposed propaganda websites originated from. The stories, which were described as “fabricated” and “fake news,” reportedly became much more frequent starting one year ago, in August 2017.

“I tried going to the admins,” Brown explained to NBC News.

“I told them about this [eight] days ago. These are hard examples of literal fake news, with clear evidence pointing to the Iranian government.”

“If they’re not going to do jack then I’m coming to the media and going to the government. They are attempting to undermine our democracy by posting propaganda.”

As further noted by NBC News, Brown’s team of Reddit “power users” had reported the posts over two dozen times since they were first spotted in July 2017, letting the platform’s officials know about the apparent disinformation campaign from Iran. Based on documented literature detailing conversations between the volunteers and Reddit, the most recent reports of the peculiar activity took place on August 16 and 18, not long before Facebook in specific purged the alleged Iran state media accounts behind the posts.

Despite the alleged lack of action on its part, as well as the fact that Reddit does not expressly forbid state-sponsored propaganda, the website took action in recent weeks to delete some user accounts proven to have posted the Iranian propaganda. Reddit also issued a statement confirming that it is aware of the “malicious actors on social platforms” and is currently investigating into the matter.