Africa: Facebook Closes Disinformation Accounts Linked to French Military, Russia

Facebook login screen

Facebook has said that it removed two networks based in Russia and one linked to the French military, accusing them of carrying out interference campaigns in Africa.

Two networks running multiple Facebook accounts were assigned to people associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency, and the third had "links to individuals associated with French military," the social media platform said.

All three were removed from the site for breaking its policy against foreign or government interference, Facebook said, adding that the networks targeted countries mainly in north Africa and some in the Middle East.

Targeting Africa

In a Facebook blog, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy,and David Agranovich, head of global threat disruption pointed out that each of the networks that were removed, targeted people outside of their country of origin, primarily targeting Africa, and also some countries in the Middle East.

"While we've seen influence operations target the same regions in the past, this was the first time our team found two campaigns -- from France and Russia -- actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing side for being fake," the blog reads.

"It appears that this Russian network was an attempt to rebuild their operations after our October 2019 takedown, which also coincided with a notable shift in focus of the French campaign to begin to post about Russia's manipulation campaigns in Africa."

Internet duelling

The French military made no immediate comment on the allegations.

"This was the first time our team found two campaigns -- from France and Russia -- actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing side for being fake, " the blog added.

The networks used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action.

French network

The French network targeted the Central African Republic and Mali, and, to a lesser extent, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Chad.

In all, Facebook removed 84 Facebook accounts, six Pages, nine Groups and 14 Instagram accounts for violating Facebook policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Some of the posts, in French and Arabic, were about France's policies in Francophone Africa, claims of Russian interference in CAR elections, supportive comments about the French military and criticism of Russia.

"The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali!" read a sample post shared by Facebook.

In disrupting the two Russian networks, the social network removed 274 Facebook accounts and 18 Instagram accounts, along with an array of groups and pages

"We shared information about our findings with law enforcement and industry partners," Gleicher and Agranovich said.

"We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we've said before, it's an ongoing effort and we're committed to continually improving to stay ahead."

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