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How the Iran-based suspicion campaign tried to get Canadian media to deliver fake news



An online disagreement campaign, believed to have originated in Iran, was trying to get Canadian media to boost fake news in a CBC / radio-Canadian analysis. At least one case succeeded.

The campaign was first discovered by a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Report released last week. The campaign, entitled Endless Mayfly, relied on a short, fake news story that was disseminated by meaningless goals and then disappeared.

CBC has downloaded thousands of Endless Mayfly tweets identified by Citizen Lab researchers and searched for references to Canada. CBC also investigated each of the accounts mentioned on Twitter to identify Canadian Twitter users. This campaign is aimed at thousands of Twitter users around the world, but focuses solely on Canadian accounts.

During 2016 and 2017, some of these accounts were directed at 12 Canadian media outlets, including the CBC, in an effort to raise interest in the fake story that the CIA claims claimed to have supported coup attempts in Turkey.

Another tweet was to create a French daily newspaper Le Journal de Montréal to deal with the false story that Saudi Arabia was supporting the then presidential candidate Emmanuel Mcclon in the French elections in 2017. This article was hosted on a fake version of Belgian news site Le Soir, and eventually was shared on Twitter by French politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

In some cases, this media gathering has worked. Reuters said " Reported a fake story. By quoting Ultimate Mayfly, six Arab countries have said FIFA has asked Qatar to refuse to host the 2022 World Cup. This story was featured on a real model of the Swiss news site.

Global News I heard Reuters story. I modified it later.

This screen grab shows a counterfeit story posted on a site designed exactly the same as the Swiss news site The Local. (Internet Archive)

A Citizen Lab researcher can not make a clear statement to the Iranian government, but based on the evidence gathered, "The reason why the Iranian or Iranian co-operative is most appropriate" Their analysis shows that the fake news promoted by the network is closely related to the interests of Iran.

Gabrielle Lim, the lead author of the report, said, "I think it is difficult to clarify what their purpose is, but I think they are telling the mainstream media their story." I like traditional Iranian countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, I think the goal is to spread the geopolitical divide among the enemies "

Role of social media

Another component of the Endless Mayfly was to try out the fake stories published by other media around the world. Twitter users who pose as independent reporters have contacted several stores and suggested cooperation. One of these outlets is the Canadian right-wing news and commentary site Rebel, run by Frank Ezra Levant.

It turns out that the person using the rebel's Twitter account responded to a bogus account called Brian H. Hayden. He was described as a "freelance journalist" on his profile.

However, the Montreal-based website Global Research has done this. This site publishes a story promoting disputed theories such as chemtrails. In 2017, Global Research published two articles by Hayden, both of which were discovered by researchers in the form of Endless Mayfly.

An article claimed that Israel and Turkey are trying to partition the Middle East by supporting independent Kurds in Iraq. The other side claimed that former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was king of Saudi Arabia.

CBC contacted Global Research and shared their thoughts, but we still have not heard back.

This screenshot shows & # 39; Brian H. Hayden & # 39; who contacts Rita Katz, a well-known terrorist specialist via Twitter. (Citizen research institute)

Endless Mayfly campaigns often rely partially on creating invalid web pages for physical media outlets, often copying layouts and hosting them at URLs similar to their destination. For example, the article was posted on "theguaradian.com" rather than The Guardian's actual website, theguardian.com.

Two domain very similar to the Canadian media outlets nationalepost.com and theglobeandmail.org were also enrolled by those who participated in the campaign. The researcher could not verify that the content was posted on this website, and no traces of the article remained. However, their URLs are almost identical to the URLs of the National Post and Globe and Mail. These sites were later deleted.

The campaign, aimed at Canadian press and journalists, was arrested in 2012 and focused on Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in "Islamic humiliation through electronic channels."

Canada fought for his release when Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, and his children came to Canada as refugees in 2013. Haidar was especially the subject of information networks. The Twitter account associated with Endless Mayfly referred to Haidar 21 separately and in three different languages ​​than the other Canadian destination.

& # 39; This game has several players & # 39;

Researchers at Citizen Lab said they can see Endless Mayfly's tactics deploy in real time.

At the beginning of the campaign, several media in several countries realized that they were using counterfeit versions of their imitated websites to send fake news. To avoid further detection, actors in the wrong information campaign will delete the article in a few hours and then redirect traffic to the actual website of impersonated media. That way, skeptical users may think that the article is legitimate.

This example shows how people behind the Endless Mayfly posted a fraudulent article on the genuine website. In this case, the article was hosted on bloomberq.com. It may not be easy to find that & # 39; q & # 39; has replaced & # 39; g & # 39; in Bloomberg. (Citizen research institute)

Some of the Endless Mayfly are still online, and researchers believe the campaign is still active.

"They have evolved too much from past mistakes, and it has become much harder for researchers to track this material," Lim said. "Iran has a long history of international trolls," he said. "We will see a more exciting approach to spreading false information."

Fenwick McKelvey, an associate professor of communications research at Concoria University, said the constantly evolving misinformation campaign would make it harder for us to find new ways to shake up political discourse as we move toward federal elections.

"It's important to pay attention to this because it's always experimental," McKelvey said, not looking at exactly the same type of technology or the same account. "It's a cat-and-mouse game."


Send tips to this or other fake news articles to kaleigh.rogers@cbc.ca or use the following to safely and securely send anonymous files. SecureDrop.


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