Facebook has dismantled a disinformation operation in several African countries - notably the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon - led from Russia by a network of a relative of Vladimir Putin, who reveals new strategies to escape detection.
The accounts, pages and groups concerned, present on Facebook but also on Instagram, were linked "to entities associated" with a relative of the Russian president, Evgeny Prigojine, already accused of having animated the anti-Clinton and pro-Trump United States in 2016 from the Internet Research Agency (Internet Research Agency) based in St. Petersburg.
Mr. Prigojine also finances the Wagner group, a security company that deploys mercenaries in Africa and whose name was mentioned in particular in the murder of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic.
The announcement of the abolition of these power-related accounts in Moscow comes just days after a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, which confirmed Vladimir Putin's growing ambitions in a continent where Chinese and Westerners are courting longtime leaders. .
In addition to Côte d'Ivoire, the DRC, Central African Republic or Cameroon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sudan and Libya were also targeted by Russian operations, said the social network, which acted after being alerted by the media American Daily Beast and the Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University in California.
In total, Facebook has eliminated 35 accounts on its network, 53 pages, seven groups and five Instagram accounts.
This operation "seems to have relied on sub-contractors native speakers of the country concerned and / or originating from the region.A method of concealment that makes it more difficult to know where these misinformation campaigns come from," says the Cyber Policy Center.
The contents, which were country-specific, focused on international and local news, including topics such as Moscow's policy on the African continent, but also the elections in Madagascar and Mozambique, or critics of the politics of the continent. United States and France in the region, said Facebook.
Operators did not just use Facebook or Instagram. They were also active on Twitter, in groups on WhatsApp (also owned by facebook), and on Telegram (encrypted messaging).
The Cyber Policy Center is conducting the survey to see if these campaigns have also run on more discreet networks.
- Tailored -
In addition to the vehicle, the form taken by these influence campaigns was tailor-made for them to be the most popular, including through live Facebook videos, opinion surveys through Google Forms. and even a contest.
Some 475,000 accounts followed one or more of the deleted accounts and pages. Approximately 450 people were members of one or more of the groups and about 650 followed one or more of the offending Instagram accounts.
In the Central African Republic, a network of Facebook pages operated from Madagascar welcomed the Russian presence in the country whether in terms of military aid or cultural events, in a tone suggesting that this presence was supported by a large part of the population local.
In Libya, support went to two personalities: Marshal Khalifa Haftar and one of Muammar Gaddafi's sons.
In Madagascar, Facebook pages have been created since 2018 but became active only after the new President Andry Rajoelina took office in February 2019 to support the government. Supporting power in place found in Sudan.
In Mozambique, the operation also sticks to the electoral calendar and criticizes the opposition while in the DRC, the tone of the publications was not clearly aligned with the public strategy of Moscow, notes the center of Stanford.
Operators also spent $ 77,000 on Facebook ads (paid in dollars) between April 2018 and October 2019.
© 2019 AFP