The Washington Post:
By Jason Rezaian
This weekend, a new wrinkle was added to the ongoing saga about the information war over Iran policy: the stunning revelation that an online persona that was cited by the Trump administration to justify leaving the Iran nuclear deal is likely not a real person, after all.
On Sunday, the Intercept published an investigation into “Heshmat Alavi,” a rabid supporter of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial Iranian opposition group. Since 2014, he had amassed a large Twitter following, which he apparently leveraged to attract interest in freelance submissions.
But according to the Intercept report, it turns out Alavi, the self-proclaimed “Iranian activist with a passion for equal rights” who claims to be “in contact with sources that provide credible information about the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” was a team of MEK members producing the content in Albania.
That didn’t stop Forbes, the Hill, Daily Caller and even the Voice of America from amplifying Alavi’s platform as a voice on Iran policy. [Note: Forbes and Voice of America have since removed “Alavi’s” pieces from their websites.] All of these outlets, and several more, have published articles by Alavi that claimed the MEK is the main opposition to the current Iranian regime.
More disturbing than the articles, however, were the Twitter tirades that Alavi directed at established journalists who write on Iran — including me — referring to us “lobbyists,” “agents” and “collaborators” of the Islamic republic. These efforts actively sought to undermine our credibility about the best approach to deal with Iran and resorted to personal attacks in order to do so.
Apparently, libel isn’t a concern if you’re not actually a person.
After the report, Twitter appears to have suspended the account. But the MEK, the organization that “Team Heshmat Alavi” represents, has a nasty history. It was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations for years before being removed in 2012. These days, it has no discernible popular support in Iran and egregiously mistreats its members.
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