A Russian Facebook campaign focused on spreading fake news and misleading users has been active in several African countries as Russia tests its disinformation capabilities.
Russian online networks were linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin who was indicted by the U.S. for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to NBCNews.
The accounts employing disinformation tactics in Africa have been publishing a larger volume of posts than the accounts that meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
The Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which engages in online influence operations on behalf of Russian business and political interests, posted on Facebook 2,442 times a month on average ahead of the U.S. elections in 2016, according to the New York Times.
By comparison, one of the networks in Africa posted 8,900 times in October alone.
Facebook has said that it removed three Russian-backed influence networks targeting African countries through Arabic-language posts.
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The African countries targeted in the campaign included Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, France24 reports.
The Stanford Internet Observatory, which worked with Facebook on the investigation into these Russian networks, discovered that Russians have been working with locals in the targeted countries to set up Facebook accounts that would appear authentic from a local perspective.
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Facebook pages were created by the Russians to pose as local news sites. One called “Sudan Daily” often reposted articles from Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news organization, The New York Times reported.
Posts from “Sudan Daily” would mostly promote Russian policies affecting Africa with some posts designed to criticize French and U.S. policies involving Africa.
Facebook has been criticized for its policy on political advertising.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he will allow politicians to post any claims they want in an ad — even if they are false — in the name of free speech.
“I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians and the news,” said Zuckerberg.
“Some people accuse us of allowing speech because they think all we care about is making money, and that’s wrong,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call.
“I can assure you that from a business perspective, the controversy this creates far outweighs the very small percentage of our business that these political ads make up.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that his platform has banned political ads globally, according to CNN.