After coming under serious fire recently in the US senate for allowing politicians to easily advertise political campaigns on his platform Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook have responded by suspending accounts.
Facebook on Wednesday said it had suspended three networks of Russian accounts that meddled in the domestic politics of eight African countries, and were tied to a Russian businessman accused of interfering in past U.S. elections.
The influence operations hiding behind fake identities were traced back to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been indicted in the United States in connection with a campaign targeting the 2016 US elections.
“Each of these operations created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Facebook cybersecurity chief Nathaniel Gleicher said in a statement.
“We have shared information about our findings with law enforcement, policymakers and industry partners.”
The campaigns used almost 200 fake and compromised accounts to target people in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, Facebook said. Between them, the accounts amassed more than 1 million followers.
Facebook described three separate operations targeting both its core social network and Instagram.
One operation included 35 accounts and 53 pages that focused on Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
The effort attracted some 475,000 followers and spent $77,000 for ads posting on global and local political news including Russian policies in Africa and criticism of French and US policies.
A separate operation targeting Sudan included 20 different accounts and 18 pages, some posing as news organizations. The third network, focused on Libya, involved 15 accounts and 12 pages posting about local news and geopolitical issues.
All the networks were connected to “entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin,” a Russian catering tycoon indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller as the backer of an alleged Russian effort to sway elections in the United States with covert social media campaigns.
Prigozhin and lawyers representing him did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest Facebook accusations. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.
In some of the African countries, the Russian-run networks worked with local citizens to better disguise their origins and target internet users, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.
“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” he told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”
Facebook declined to identify which local people or organisations had worked with the accounts or which companies it had connected to the activity and Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because of banquets he has organised for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The campaigns shut down for meddling in Africa had posted about local news and geopolitical issues, as well as sharing content from Russian and local state-controlled media, Facebook said. Some of the accounts were active as far back as 2014.
Some accounts supported a specific party or candidate, they said, while others backed multiple figures. In other cases, the pages appeared geared towards building support for Wagner activities or Russian deals for natural resources.
“In addition to well-known social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the actors leveraged public WhatsApp and Telegram groups,” a statement from Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center said.
“The operation used social media engagement tactics designed to develop a close relationship with the audience, including Facebook Live videos, Google Forms for feedback, and a contest.”
In Sudan, said Observatory Research Scholar Shelby Grossman, “the tone has been generally supportive of the government, but not transparently so. It does suggest the strategy is very different across countries.”
Sourced from Africa News
Author: Moses Echodu
Moses is a freelance writer for Newslibre and Programs Manager at the Craft Silicon Foundation. He loves writing about sports, politics and news around the globe and Inspiring new young people!!