Facebook removes wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign targeting Africa

Facebook removes wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign targeting Africa
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Facebook on Wednesday announced that it had removed a wide-ranging Russian disinformation campaign targeting African countries, linking the network of fake accounts to a Russian oligarch previously indicted by the Justice Department for allegedly interfering in U.S. elections. 

The social media giant unearthed the network of inauthentic pages and accounts with assistance from researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who found that millions of users across African countries including the Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were reached. 

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Facebook said it removed 35 Facebook accounts, 53 pages, seven groups and five Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and targeted a broad swath of African countries.

"Our investigation connected these campaigns to entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was previously indicted by the US Justice Department," Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook's cybersecurity policy, wrote in a blog post. Prigozhin was indicted for allegedly helping to fund the Russian disinformation campaigns that targeted the U.S. presidential election around 2016.

Several of the disinformation efforts disclosed Wednesday targeted countries with Russia-friendly political messaging during election periods or times of political instability. 

In the Central African Republic, according to the Stanford researchers, the operation created a network of Facebook pages to publicize and praise Russian activities in the country. "These Pages, most of which had administrators in Madagascar, seem to have been intended to appear organic and give CAR audiences the impression of widespread domestic support for the administration of President Touadéra and its Russian partners," the researchers wrote. 

And in Mozambique, fake pages churned out messaging in support of the incumbent president ahead of the country's presidential and parliamentary elections, the researchers found.  

For years, Russia been ramping up its efforts to increase the Kremlin's political power in various African countries, and the latest announcement shows it has been using its infamous disinformation tactics to drill in that foothold. Many of the fake pages linked to Russian state media and lauded the country's foreign policy decisions. 

Wednesday's announcement also shows Russia has been honing its disinformation skills as it pays subcontractors adept in local languages to spread its messages.

"This investigation demonstrates a fundamental challenge of attributing information operations: disentangling activity by domestic interested parties, foreign actors working on behalf of domestic parties and foreign actors working in support of their own geopolitical or commercial interests," the Stanford researchers wrote.