WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department has suspended funding for an online project aimed at fighting Iranian disinformation after it tweeted harsh criticism of individual human rights workers, academics and journalists, some of whom are U.S. citizens.
The department said the work done by @IranDisinfo largely conformed to the guidelines it laid out for projects it funds to counter foreign government propaganda. But, it said it suspended the funding after discovering recent tweets that violated those terms and would not resume it until the contractor responsible for the account ensures that all future activity meets the guidelines.
The identity of the person or group contracted to run the account or how much money it had received was not immediately clear.
When its funding was suspended, the year-old account, which says it was created with the goal of “exposing and countering disinformation from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” had only a modest audience with fewer than 2,000 followers. At least some of those followers are fierce opponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew last year.
The funding suspension was announced Friday after several people targeted by @IranDisinfo pointed out what they called harassment by a U.S. government-linked account. They suggested they were being targeted for criticizing or questioning the Trump administration’s hardline stance on Iran.
Among those criticized by the tweets, which have now been deleted, were a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a Washington Post columnist, a BBC journalist and a professor at Georgetown University, according to Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American commentator who was also targeted.
Mortazavi published a lengthy series of tweets with screenshots of the offending @IranDisinfo posts on Thursday.
The project is funded by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which was created by Congress to run online efforts to combat extremism. That portfolio was later expanded to include fighting foreign government propaganda, particularly from Russia, after Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in part by using social media.