Google closes YouTube accounts linked to Iranian government

Google closes YouTube accounts linked to Iranian government

Aug 7, 2020

Google took action against Iranian government accounts for coordinated activity, the tech giant announced Wednesday. The move follows similar actions by Facebook and coincides with Twitter rolling out labels for select government accounts on its platform.

Google announced it terminated 16 YouTube accounts in April that were allegedly linked to the Iranian state-sponsored International Union of Virtual Media network. The announcement was part of Google’s report for the second quarter of 2020 that was released this week.

The accounts in question allegedly took part in “coordinated influence operations,” which refers to coordinated behavior from accounts related to certain information. The users posted in Arabic about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and US-Saudi relations, according to Google.

Iranian state media regularly runs articles critical of the US government, including its handling of the coronavirus. Saudi Arabia is one of Iran’s biggest foes in the region. Google also closed accounts linked to Russia and China in the second quarter of 2020.

Google is not the only Silicon Valley heavyweight to target the Iranian government for influence operations. Also in April, Facebook closed accounts it said were tied to the Iranian government and seeking to spread misinformation in multiple countries.

Such actions are controversial because they appear to disproportionately target certain governments. Iran, China and Russia all have adversarial relations with the United States, where Google, Facebook and Twitter are based. Facebook also closed accounts linked to Russia in April.

Twitter rolled out labels for certain government accounts Thursday. Twitter’s labels focus on senior government officials and state-run media in the permanent UN Security Council member states: the United States, China, Russia, France and the UK. Twitter may label more countries soon.

“For transparency and practicality, we are starting with a limited and clearly-defined group of countries before expanding to a wider range of countries in the future,” the company said in a statement.

The popular Russian RT Arabic outlet now has the “state-affiliated media” label. The US-government owned Arabic-language news outlet Alhurra does not.

Being owned by a government does not necessarily constitute a state affiliation, according to Twitter.

“State-affiliated media is defined as outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution,” the company said.

By focusing on permanent UN Security Council member nations, some major state-run outlets in the Middle East are left out of the new labeling system for now. These include the Tasnim News Agency in Iran and TRT in Turkey, among others.

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