A LEADING member of the Iranian opposition in exile has said Iran’s clerical regime has devoted “significant” funds and personnel to social media over the years, with the aim of spreading disinformation in pursuit of its own aims.

Shahin Gobadi, who sits on the foreign affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) was speaking to The National days after Facebook and Twitter deleted hundreds of fake accounts which originated in Iran.

They have since been joined by Google and YouTube.

One Facebook page which supported Scottish independence was also deleted after it was found to have originated in Iran.

Other pages called Free Scotland 2014 and The British Left shared posts on Scotland leaving the UK, Brexit, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and the Queen, Donald Trump’s presidency and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Free Scotland 2014 page had more than 200,000 followers before it was deleted in Facebook’s purge on fake accounts.

FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, first alerted the social media giant about pages operating under the name Liberty Front Press, which posed as “news and civil society organisations”.

An internal investigation by Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, found four groups on Facebook and Instagram which had spent thousands of pounds on advertising and had hundreds of thousands of followers.

Facebook’s security policy chief, Nathaniel Gleicher, said some of the activity dated back to 2011, and included the spreading of political messages and attempts to hack other people’s accounts or spread malware.

Earlier this year, Facebook increased transparency around some pages and political advertising after whistleblowers revealed that Russian agents and controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica targeted voters during the 2016 US election and the Brexit vote.

Then, in July, the Electoral Commission fined the official Brexit campaign group Vote Leave and reported senior figures to the police for breaking electoral law with Facebook adverts targeting voters in the build-up to the 2016 EU referendum.

Gobadi told The National that Iran’s clerical regime pursued its own objectives.

“For years it has devoted a significant budget and personnel to disseminate lies and disinformation against the Iranian resistance,” he said.

“To this effect, it has used all sorts of social media platforms to target the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the NCRI.

“The systematic and extensive disinformation campaign using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, augments the regime’s terror apparatus against the dissidents.

“In reality, the disinformation campaign has been the prelude to terror operations and has paved the way for the regime’s terrorist operations. In many occasions, it was under the guise of beginning campaigns.

“The appeasement policy pursued by the west vis-a-vis the regime in Tehran over the years, facilitated the clerical regime’s malign conducts and exploiting even the social media in pursuing its sinister objectives. It is time that the mullahs’ disinformation campaign and its conduits be fully exposed.”