Iranian women's rights groups have had to deal with a lot of bot following on their social media accounts. Activists say that while they have repeatedly asked Meta, the parent company of the photo sharing app, to stymie the flood of junk followers, more keep coming, totaling in the millions across dozens of organizations around the world.
The targeted bot campaigns, in which a group gets tens of thousands of new followers in a day, have gained traction as the Iranian government works to counter broad dissent focused on an array of pressing social issues. Women's rights activists say they have faced a government that has been more aggressive in cracking down on them in recent months. Women around the country took part in #No2 Hijab actions, in which they pushed back their hijabs, or removed them altogether, on the eve of the National Day of Hijab. Bad-hijab women are labeled by authorities.
It is one of the few international platforms accessible and uncensored in Iran and has served as a crucial communication platform for feminist organizers.
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, says that the government is feeling threatened by the women's rights movement because more and more people are pushing back against hijab. I think that whatever is going on with these bots that have been purchased to target Instagram pages is not a coincidence. We've seen many women's rights groups targeted in this way.
The interests of the Iranian regime are aligned with the interests of the bot campaigns. The attacks are subtle because they don't involve a lot of malicious comments or attempts to take down the entire site. Activists say they gained tens of thousands of new followers in a few hours on their social media pages. The new follower accounts seem to have strings of unintelligible vowels and numbers. The United for Iran page jumped from around 27,000 followers to over 70 thousand overnight. Activists shared similar stories of their accounts gaining tens of thousands of followers in a few hours and then losing followers at a time after that.
It is difficult to determine if administrators are reaching legitimate followers with their posts and stories because of the huge spikes and fluctuations. Activists note that the bot accounts will report abusive posts to the photo sharing service.
Me_Too_Movement_Iran says it hasn't stopped since April. We get a lot of fake followers when we work on sexual assault reports from people with strong connections to the government. Over 100,000 fake accounts have been added to our account. They report our posts so they remove them from the photo sharing website. The attacks affect our performance to spread our message and be in contact with women and minorities.