Instagram is slow to tackle bots targeting Iranian women’s groups | MarketingwithAnoy

IRANIAN WOMEN’S RIGHTS groups have for months faced a deluge of bots that track their Instagram accounts and disrupt their digital outreach activities. Activists say that even though they have been asking for several months for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, to stem the flow of unwanted followers, more, in total, millions are coming in across dozens of organizations operating in Iran and elsewhere in the world.

The targeted bot campaigns, in which a group receives tens of thousands of new followers in as little as a single day, have gained momentum as the Iranian government works to address widespread disagreement focused on a range of pressing social issues, including economic difficulties. Women’s rights activists say they have faced particularly aggressive government repression in recent months, with some being monitored by law enforcement and arrested. As “National Day of Hijab and Chastity” approached last Tuesday, women around the country took part in # No2Hijab actions, pushing their hijab back, exposing their hair or removing them completely. Authorities label the participants as “bad hijab women”.

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

“More and more people are withdrawing towards the hijab right now; it’s unprecedented, and I think the government feels threatened by the women’s rights movement, ”said Firuzeh Mahmoudi, CEO of United for Iran, one of the organizations that has been bot-targeted on its Instagram account. page. “So whatever happens to these bots that have been purchased systematically to target Instagram pages is certainly not a coincidence, in my opinion. We have seen about 30 women’s rights groups inside Iran and 40 outside targeted in this way.”

The bot campaigns are in line with the interests of the Iranian regime, but the actors behind them have not yet been identified. The attacks are subtle in some ways because they do not involve a stream of malicious comments or attempts to remove entire pages. Instead, activists say, their Instagram pages – which often have only a few thousand followers – suddenly get tens of thousands more in a matter of hours. The new follower accounts appear to be named using long, systematic rows of incomprehensible consonants and numbers. In one example, Mahmoudi says a United for Iran side jumped from a consistent average of around 27,000 followers to 70,000 overnight. Other activists shared similar stories that their accounts gained tens of thousands of followers in a matter of hours over the past few weeks and then gained and lost followers a few thousand at a time.

These massive increases and fluctuations distort administrators’ measurements of whether they reach legitimate followers with their posts and stories. Activists also note that bot accounts will individually report specific posts to Instagram as abuse to get them removed incorrectly.

“It’s not consistent, but it’s not stopped since April,” said Shaghayegh Norouzi, founder of Me_Too_Movement_Iran. “If, for example, we work on a report of sexual assault from a person with strong ties to the government, we get a lot of false followers. Over the past 10 days, over 100,000 fake accounts have been added to our public account. They repeatedly report our posts, so Instagram removes our posts. These attacks specifically affect our performance in order to spread our message and stay in touch with women and minorities who need our help. “

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