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Facebook stomps out attempt to rig African election

Three fake account networks from France and Russia were removed from Facebook as they were attempting to manipulate Central African Republic elections. Facebook experts gave BRYAN TURNER the inside story

Gleicher went into detail about one bizarre instance of the groups fighting against one another to assert their messages.

“One of the most interesting things about today’s takedown was this is the first time that we found two foreign campaigns, one from France and one from Russia, actively engage and attempt to counter each other’s accounts. They friended each other, commented on each other’s posts, and criticised the opposing side for being fake.

“We have enforced a number of takedowns of CIB networks targeting Africa over the course of the last years. In October 2019, we announced a removal of a network links to Russia that were targeting several countries within region. The first Russian network we have announced appeared to be an attempt to rebuild their operations after we took down that network in October 2019.

“In addition, our public exposure of that Russian operation coincided with a shift in focus of the French campaign, in which it began to post particularly about Russia’s manipulation campaigns in Africa. This is a good reminder that these actors will continue to attempt to target public debate and taking down a network isn’t enough by itself. Each time we remove one of these networks, we put automated controls in place, so that we are monitoring for if that network tries to come back.”

Agranovich said the last group, and by far the biggest group taken down, targeted Russian and Syrian ties.

“The third group we removed comprised 211 Facebook accounts, 126 pages, 16 groups and 17 Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and focused primarily on Libya, Sudan and Syria. This investigation linked this operation to individuals associated with past activity by Russia’s Internet Research Agency as well.

“This network was found internally as our team was reviewing suspected CIB in the region with limited links to the network’s we removed in October of 2019. This was a network that consisted of several decentralised clusters of connected activity that like the previous Russian network relied on local nationals this time in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Syria. They used fake accounts, many of which had been detected and removed by our automated systems at the time of creation or soon thereafter.

“Their accounts were used to post into groups to amplify the off-platform domains posing as news outlets to evade our enforcement and to manage pages masquerading as news entities and military-affiliated entities in Libya. Some of these pages went through significant name changes over time as well. This campaign posted primarily in Arabic about regional news and events, including misinformation, supportive commentary about Khalifa Haftar (head of the Libyan national army), the Libyan army, and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The network also criticised Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, and the peace talks at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia.”

The removal of these groups comes at a key moment in the history of the Central African Republic, as the country holds its democratic elections on 27 December, less than two weeks from now.

Gleicher said: “One reason that we are announcing this today and moving very quickly in this announcement is we want to make sure that everyone is aware of this operation and that it has been removed in advance of that election.”

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