US suspends funding for Iran Twitter account that trolled critics

Washington (AFP) –


The State Department is suspending funding for a taxpayer-funded Twitter account on Iran that sharply attacked critics of President Donald Trump's hawkish policy, an official said Saturday.

The Iran Disinformation Project was set up late last year with a stated mission to expose the "nefarious influence" of the clerical regime in Tehran, including by tackling its "social media manipulation."

The account, in English, Farsi and occasionally Arabic, is funded by the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which is in charge of countering foreign propaganda.

To its modest number of Twitter followers, which stood at just over 2,700 on Saturday, @IranDisinfo offers a narrative in line with the Trump administration, highlighting human rights concerns in Iran, attacking its leaders across the spectrum and using the hashtag #40YearsOfFailure to describe the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the pro-US shah.

But some of the many US-based critics of the Trump administration?s hard line on Iran, who fear his policies could lead to war, voiced alarm at also being attacked by the account, which at times suggested they were stooges for the regime.

A State Department official said that while "the bulk" of @IranDisinfo's work was acceptable, the Department "identified recent tweets that fall outside the scope of the project to counter foreign state propaganda or disinformation."

On Friday, "the Department suspended the funding for the Iran Disinfo project until the implementer takes necessary steps to ensure that any future activity remains within the agreed scope of work," he said.

Negar Mortazavi, a prominent Twitter commentator on Iran who is based in Washington, highlighted the irony that she cannot return to Iran because she has worked for US-funded Voice of America.

"@IranDisinfo uses my own tax money to attack and smear me and call me 'Devil's Advocate,'" she tweeted.

The account also attacked Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist who was detained for a year and a half in Iran.

@IranDisInfo assailed him for using his column in the newspaper to criticize Trump's ban on visas for Iranians and citizens of several other Muslim-majority countries, saying the former prisoners was ignoring abuses by Tehran.