The American social network has deleted several dozen fake accounts dedicated to the promotion of French foreign policy and to criticism of that of Russia. The campaign, targeting Mali and the Central African Republic, was reportedly carried out by “individuals associated with the French army”.
Attempts to manipulate the public debate on Facebook appear to be intensifying on the continent. The teams of Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy for the American social network, announced that they had dismantled three networks of accounts, groups, and pages which had been broadcasting since January 2020 “rumors or false information in a coordinated manner and on behalf of foreign entities or governmental ”.
A network managed from France
This is the first time since Mark Zuckerberg’s platform has been engaged in the hunt for what it defines as “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that one of these networks has been based in France.
Composed of 84 accounts, six pages and nine Facebook groups as well as 14 Instagram accounts, it mainly targeted the Central African Republic and Mali, through the use of fake accounts allowing individuals based in France to impersonate local citizens.
These various accounts – 6,800 in all, on Facebook and Instagram – published and commented in French and Arabic messages aimed at promoting the action of French forces in the Sahel and other French initiatives in French-speaking Africa.
In the Central African Republic, these false accounts have notably launched or relayed “allegations ofpotential Russian interference in the elections ”,“ favorable comments on the French army ”or even “Criticism of Russia’s involvement in the country”. In Mali, when certain messages concerned the promotion of the actions of the French Development Agency, others directly attacked Russian policy vis-à-vis Bamako. “The Russian imperialist gangrene Mali!” Watch out for Tsarian lobotomization! », Can we read on one of the messages highlighted by the Facebook teams.
Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad have also been targeted, but “to a lesser extent,” Nathaniel Gleicher told the conference. “Although the people behind [cette campagne coordonnée] tried to hide their identity, our investigation revealed links with individuals associated with the French army, ”added Facebook in a statement, without however giving further details.
Fight of ideas
More than attempts to interfere in the public debate, Facebook and the partners with which the social network works, such as the University of California at Stanford or the company Graphika, insist that the platform was, in this specific case , the scene of a real confrontation between French and Russian influence networks in a foreign country, some trying to discredit the messages of others by responding via comments or other posts.
On the Russian side, the two suppressed networks are linked to the Russian oligarch Evgueni Prigojine, owner of the Warner group, supplier of mercenaries and active in the Central African Republic. They targeted this country and, to a lesser extent, Madagascar, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, South Africa as well as the Central African diaspora in France.
In addition to criticism of French foreign policy and claims about a fictitious coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea, their messages – published in French, English, Portuguese and Arabic – concerned the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as promoting Russian vaccine and Moscow’s policy in sub-Saharan Africa.
At the end of October 2019, Facebook had already announced that it had dismantled a similar network linked to the businessman presented as close to Vladimir Putin and financier of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian propaganda body.
Asked by Young Africa on the possible legal measures that he could bring against Evgueni Prigojine, Facebook does not seem to want to go beyond the banning of this one and the organs which are related to him on its platforms. At the risk of seeing similar operations flourish forever.