Instagram Slow to Tackle Bots Targeting Iranian Women’s Groups

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Rights of Iranian women The groups have faced for months a deluge of robots that track their Instagram accounts and disrupt their digital outreach operations. Activists say that although for months they have been asking Meta, the parent company of Instagram, to curb the flood of junk followers, more continue to arrive, with a total of millions in dozens of organizations operating in Iran and other parts of the world.

Targeted bots campaigns, in which a group receives tens of thousands of new followers in just one day, have gained momentum as the Iranian government works to counter widespread dissent centered on a number of pressing social issues, including difficulties economic. Women’s rights activists say they have faced particularly aggressive repression by the government in recent months, with some being monitored by law enforcement and arrested. As “National Day of the Hijab and Chastity” approached last Tuesday, women from across the country took part in # No2Hijab actions, in which they pulled back their hijabs, revealing their hair or leaving. remove completely. Authorities label the participants as “bad hijab women.”

All in all, Instagram has served as a crucial communication platform for feminist organizers because it is one of the few accessible and uncensored international platforms in Iran’s tightly controlled digital landscape.

“More and more people are stepping back against the hijab right now; it is unprecedented and I think the government feels threatened by the women’s rights movement, ”says Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, one of the organizations that has faced the target of bots on its page Instagram. “So what happens to these robots that have been systematically bought to target Instagram pages is definitely not a coincidence, in my opinion. We have seen about 30 women’s rights groups inside Iran and 40 outside that target. “

Robot campaigns align with the interests of the Iranian regime, but the actors behind it have not yet been identified. The attacks are somehow subtle because they don’t involve a lot of malicious comments or attempts to delete entire pages. Instead, activists say, their Instagram pages, which often have only a few thousand followers, suddenly gain tens of thousands more in just a few hours. The new follower accounts seem to be named with long, systematic strings of unintelligible consonants and numbers. In one example, Mahmoudi says a United for Iran page went from having a steady average of about 27,000 followers to 70,000 overnight. Other activists shared similar stories about their accounts that gained tens of thousands of followers in a few hours over the past few weeks and then gained and lost a few thousand followers at a time.

These massive spikes and fluctuations distort administrators ’metrics about whether they reach legitimate followers with their posts and stories. Activists also point out that bot accounts will individually report specific posts on Instagram as abusive to remove them incorrectly.

“It’s not consistent, but it hasn’t stopped since April,” says Shaghayegh Norouzi, founder of Me_Too_Movement_Iran. “For example, if we are working on a report of sexual assault by someone with strong connections to the government, we have a lot of fake followers. Over the last 10 days, more than 100,000 fake accounts have been added to our public account. repeatedly our posts, so Instagram deletes our posts. These attacks specifically affect our performance to spread our message and stay in touch with women and minorities who need our help. “

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