Is Facebook Undermining Democracy In Africa?

Written by Ann Brown
Social Media Facebook Hand

Facebook got into major hot water in the U.S. for not curtailing fake news and allowing organizations to manipulate the social media to affect the U.S. presidential election. Now it seems the same thing may be happening in Africa and once again Facebook is being called to the carpet and undermining democracy in Africa.

“More than 139 million people in Africa use Facebook — and almost entirely on mobile. If Facebook was a country, it would be the world’s second most-populous nation,” the BBC reported.

Younger African favor Facebook, and the youth on the continent are the majority of the electorate in most African countries. These are the voters who will be affected by coordinated misinformation campaigns.

There have been a few high-profile incidents of fake news on the social media site. Facebook “banned Archimedes Group, which it said was responsible for a network of those masquerading as African nationals, and removed 265 Facebook and Instagram pages and groups involved in ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ mainly targeting Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, and Tunisia,” the BBC reported.

But many think Facebook is dragging its feet in counteracting fake news.

According to Nanjira Sambuli, from the World Wide Web Foundation, Facebook takes too long to pay attention to this problem in developing countries.

“Democracies are at risk on this continent, and unfortunately, social media platforms are fast becoming the sites of aggravation,” she told the BBC.

Facebook critics in Africa cite the “Cambridge Analytica scandal as a prime example of the pass Facebook gets in Africa for the same wrongdoing for which Western regulators were less forgiving.” Facebook, they say is doing the same thing in Africa in multiple countries including Nigeria and Kenya.

Congolese blogger Simeon Nkola Matamba tweeted: “The question should rather be, why does Facebook feel comfortable doing in Africa what they’d be less likely to do in other parts of the world? As much as Facebook must comply with ethics our institutions and regulators must up their game (if they have any) and protect people’s rights.”

The site has since deleted many pages that focused on the 2019 Nigerian elections, found a review by US-based political think tank The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).

One such page was “Make Nigeria Worse Again,” which seemed to be a trolling Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president and President Muhammadu Buhari’s main opponent. “The page included a banner image of Abubakar as Darth Vader, the notorious Star Wars villain,” the researchers wrote.

“Ghana 24” was another page that was removed. It claimed to be a news outlet “but amplified pro-government stories and news items” and was managed from Israel and the United Kingdom.

Some African governments have been using fake news for their own benefit.

“[Some] Nigerian politicians follow the example of [US President] Donald Trump by using ‘fake news’ as a means of disparaging news that is unfavorable to them,” Idayat Hassan, from the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, said

Facebook has said it is working to get rid of misinformation on the site. “To imply that we are using Africa as ‘a testing ground’ is simply wrong and inaccurate. Facebook’s commitment within the region remains strong, and over the past two years we have dedicated unprecedented resources and investments across the continent including establishing teams of product, policy, and operations experts with local language and local context expertise,” it added.

Addition, it said it had teamed up with local third-party fact-checkers in Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa. and Senegal.