Armed with claims of propaganda, fake news, and going after Iran, the US Justice Department has seized 92 websites operating around the world, and which they say were spreading “pro-Iranian disinformation.”
According to a statement from the department, Google initiated the investigation by providing intelligence to the FBI, while Facebook and Twitter also helped.
The list of 92 sites shows a lot of very small, very similar sites, declaring themselves progressive media and publishing “native writers” who think outside of the mainstream. A number of the domains seem to have just been parked, with solicitation for people possibly wanting to buy the domains.
The main US-based site was USJournal, which operated the USJournal.Net domain name. It gives a fairly standard appearance of a web-based news site, with some articles leaning into topics which would likely be of interest to Iran.
Four of the domain names were claimed to be in violation of Foreign Agent Registration (FARA) requirements, while the other 88 were news outlets for the rest of the world, which the US only targeted because they had US-based domain registrars and could be targeted. They claimed that the Iranian government hadn’t gotten a license from the US allowing them to buy domain names.
Despite being presented as a disinformation campaign by Iran, there is little evidence to suggest that this was anything nearly so broad, nor indeed did there seem to be substantial disinformation on the sites. As with most small sites, the news appears to be summarized from wire services, and there are a handful of writers solicited for original content.
All of this just points to the Justice Department continuing to use censorship to get rid of sites which offered an embarrassing take on international news, with Iran’s involvement serving as legal cover for mass shutdowns.
It is noteworthy that the US wants to move so heavily against websites which seem to have at most a trivial following simply because of the connection to Iran. The US military, after all, runs a number of websites which offer pro-US narratives under the guise of small, foreign news sites, and do so with impunity.