Facebook targets French and Russian influence operations in Africa

Battle for influence in Africa. Facebook announced Tuesday, December 15, that it had dismantled three networks of fake accounts carrying out influence operations in Africa. One, centered on the Central African Republic and Mali, associated with individuals linked to the French army. The other two, centered on the Central African Republic and Libya, associated with individuals linked to the activities of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian “troll factory”, based in Saint Petersburg, as well as with other entities associated with the Russian oligarch Evgueni Prigojine, head of the Russian private military company Wagner, present in the Central African Republic and Libya.

The three networks of fake accounts were dismantled because they violated Facebook’s policy prohibiting “Coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign government”Facebook chief security officer Nathaniel Gleicher and global threat disruption team leader David Agranovich said.

“Links with individuals associated with the French army”

Facebook specifies having, in the French case, deleted 84 accounts, six pages, nine groups as well as 14 Instagram accounts. “Although the people behind this tried to hide their identity and coordinated character, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the French military.” assure Facebook.

This is the first time that Facebook has sanctioned individuals associated with a government or a Western army. Company officials did not, however, directly attribute the operation to the French government and the French military, or offer evidence of institutional involvement of the French government or military entities.

In the Central African Republic, “For many months now, we have seen the rise of disinformation actions aimed at destabilizing the country, actions that we condemn” reacted, Wednesday, December 16, the French Ministry of the Armed. “We are not surprised by the conclusions” published by Facebook, but “Without being at this stage in a position to assign any responsibilities”, Due to “The multiplicity of actors in this information struggle, state or not”, concludes the ministry, which also remains silent on the accusations of French interference in Mali, where the French force Barkhane is deployed.

Social media, a battleground

Facebook’s intervention shines the spotlight on the Franco-Russian rivalry in the Central African Republic. « The geopolitical battle on the ground in Africa takes place in parallel on social media », points out a detailed 85-page report from social media analytics firm Graphika and the Stanford University Internet Observatory with which Facebook shared its data. “Not just Facebook, underlines the report, but also Twitter, YouTube and long-format press articles written by operations ”.

→ READ. France tries to regain control in the Central African Republic

The clash between the operations of Russian and French influence in the Central African Republic began in January 2020. The Russian operation relied on nationals of the Central African Republic and South Africa with messages centered on local politics, the presidential and legislative elections of December 27, praising the Russian commitment and denigrating France, as well as the local United Nations mission.

The French operation, centered primarily on Mali and the Central African Republic, also affected ” to a lesser extent “ Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. In the Central African Republic, the message targeted almost exclusively Russian interference and Russian trolls, without touching on electoral politics and future elections. In Mali, the information disseminated praised the action of the Malian and French armed forces against jihadist groups.

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