TikTok cracks down on 'foreign influence' after groups operating from Iran targeting UK users

TikTok has announced new plans to counter foreign influence operations during the election year. Credit: PA

The Iran-based TikTok network has been removed from the social media platform after it was found to be pushing anti-Israel and pro-Iran messaging, after previously being banned for pro-Scottish independence content.

The network, found by TikTok, was operating out of Iran and targeting social media users across the UK, as well as the US.

Sixty-five different accounts were identified within the network, with more than 116,000 followers between them.

The accounts, which can be traced back to 2023, began building their online audience by posting travel and tourism content.

Individuals behind the network created "false identities" and used "inauthentic means" to gain user engagement on certain narratives surrounding UK domestic policy discourse.

After October 7 2023, the same group was then identified as using those same inauthentic accounts in the war between Israel and Hamas to "artificially amplify" pro-Iranian narratives and those that were critical of the US and of Israel.

Credit: AP

The network and accounts linked to it were taken down in February 2024, while a further 15 different influence operations were disrupted by TikTok, and more than 3,000 accounts taken down during the first four months of the year.

The majority of the removed accounts were "attempting to influence political discourse", TikTok said.

It comes as the social platform announced new plans to counter foreign influence operations during the election year.

State-affiliated accounts - posting about current global affairs - will now not be recommended nor will they be allowed to advertise outside their home countries, as the social media company strengthened their approach towards countering influence.

Credit: AP

The UK election on July 4, has long been dubbed the 'AI Election' and many experts are concerned about the impact misinformation and disinformation pushed on socials could have on the way people vote. There are about 23 million UK TikTok users alone.

Cybersecurity experts have already identified other groups acting maliciously online.

Russian "hacking" group Doppelgänger were first detected spreading misinformation in May 2022, and were most recently thought to be behind the amplification of conspiracy theories online surrounding the Princess of Wales' cancer treatment.

TikTok said they were "working aggressively" to counter any influence attempts on the platform.

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