Google removes YouTube channels and web accounts tied to Iran

A security guard keeps watch as he walks past a logo of Google in Shanghai, China. (Reuters pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: Google has deleted 39 YouTube channels and 19 other web pages connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, a state-run media outlet, citing “attempted state-sponsored hacking and influence campaigns.” The move comes after Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. pulled hundreds of social accounts tied to Iran for similar reasons.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google concluded that the manipulation efforts began as early as January 2017, Kent Walker, head of global affairs, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. Google worked with cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. to identify the accounts from Iran. “We can’t go into all the technical details without giving away information that would be helpful to others seeking to abuse our platforms,” Walker wrote in the post.

Google has faced less political fire than Facebook and Twitter for letting state-sponsored election meddling spread on its services. But US officials have identified ways that Russian-backed actors used YouTube as a vehicle for political influence. Walker is slated to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about foreign election interference on Sept 5.

In the blog post, Walker also said Google removed 42 YouTube channels related to the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which sowed discord on social media before the 2016 US presidential election. Midterm elections are coming up in November and tech companies are under pressure to prevent their services from being manipulated again.