Unintended Consequences As Iran Admits It Destroyed Ukrainian Passenger Jet

Iran has admitted "unintentionally" shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board. An investigation found that "missiles fired due to human error", according to President Hassan Rouhani. He described the crash as an "unforgivable mistake".

The military said the jet flew close to a sensitive site belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and was then mistaken for a hostile aircraft. Iran had previously rejected suggestions that it was responsible for the crash.

The downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, on Wednesday, came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq. President Trump has recently said there were no casualties from the recent Iranian missile strike on US bass and that the US is “ready to embrace peace.” The US says it is "ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations" with Iran following the countries' exchange of hostilities.But there’s more than just a physical war to worry about.

Tension Is Reduced But Iran Is Expanding Its Online Disinformation Operations
Iran’s missile attacks on two Iraqi airbases have been accompanied by a spread of online disinformation, falsely labelled images and claims of news sources being hacked, which have added to jitters in the region regarding the attacks.
Iranian state television said on Wednesday 8th January that at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed, despite the US making clear that it had not sustained any casualties.

Iran has a long history of running state-backed disinformation campaigns which attempt to influence opinion overseas, with Facebook. In October, Facebook announced that it had booted a number of fake Iranian accounts spreading disinformation within the United States and North Africa.

However, Iran is using new online efforts to sway public opinion as tensions increase with the US.  So how good is Iran at online influence campaigning and what do those campaigns look like?

The first thing to know is that Iran’s no Russia, whose online disinformation campaigns in 2016 brought the field into mainstream public discussion. Tehran’s operators are less sophisticated, less well-funded, and less focused on achieving electoral political outcomes. But they can have a big effect, particularly in the Middle East. 

The regime is known for its hacking capabilities and spends a considerable amount of resources trying to shape discourse on social media. 

While Russia’s disinformation operation includes conventional media as well as intelligence and military elements, Iran’s influence and disinformation actors are generally part of traditional media outlets. The online campaign is an extension of what Iran has been doing with television for decades. Russian operators establish fake personas and pretend to be people from the United States or members of other groups, and then carefully maintain those personas, creating content to build credibility within that group, content that doesn’t necessarily further a specific information mission. 

Russian operators might seek to influence a particular political race or ballot measure in a specific country, but the Iranian focus is much less complex. The goal is always a push for Iranian foreign policy objectives, and turning global sentiment against the United States. 

When playing to a US audience the Iranians will focus on issues related to race, police brutality, and discrimination against Muslims, and the online themes will mirror what they are pushing through conventional TV and other media outlets. 
The Iranians have a growing reach in some surprising places, including Latin America, thanks to an Iranian Spanish-language outlet called HispanTV. 

Iranian messaging comes in two primary ways to suit the intended audience. 
The first is pro-Iran, such as the recent flood of pro-Soleimani propaganda that swamped parts of the Twittersphere in the days after a Jan. 2 airstrike killed the Iranian military commander. This is mostly naked self-promotion intended for consumption by the Shia portion of the Middle East. 

The second form is much broader: anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Western. This is intended to foment resentment against the US among audiences like Sunni Muslims, audiences that wouldn’t support Iran on other issues. 

Iran isn’t above dirty tricks. At very least, there’s been a big increase recently in actors pushing pro-Iranian narratives online through deceptive means. A Kuwaiti news agency has announced that it had been hacked to spread disinformation about the US withdrawal from Iraq, though agency officials declined to specifically name Iran as the source. 

Defense One:        Guardian:       Marketplace:       BBC :       Image: Flickr / LLGB Spotter

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