This is a problem – Facebook reported today that it recently detected two new networks of foreign agents who sought to manipulate citizens in North and Middle Africa Is via Facebook posts.
Both groups are from France and Russia, and Facebook claims these groups even interacted with each other pushing specific views and narratives in these regions.
As Facebook explains:
“Although we have seen influence operations targeting the same regions in the past, this was the first time our team found two campaigns – from France and Russia – actively engaging with each other,” including befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing party for their fake. It seems that this Russian network tried to rebuild its operations after our October 2019 withdrawal, which also coincided with a notable shift in focus from the French campaign to start publishing about Russia’s manipulative campaigns in Africa. ”
The finding is particularly significant given the influence Facebook can have in evolving countries, with many seeing social media as a key source of information and truth, which has had various impacts.
Last year, Facebook came under fire for undermining democracy in developing countries by facilitating the spread of disinformation around Nigeria’s elections. The most high-profile example was a campaign by Israel-based group Archimedes, which spent more than $ 800,000 on Facebook ads ahead of the poll to influence the outcome. Facebook eventually took down the network, which also included hundreds of fake profiles and pages, but African groups said the company was too slow to respond. Facebook then announced its intention to open a new content review center in Nairobi.
The issue is more pressing in African countries, as many are still developing their digital literacy and are therefore more vulnerable to such efforts. And with Africa rich in resources, it seems some foreign groups are now looking to use the social network for their own purposes, replicating tactics similar to those used to influence American voters in 2016.
For its part, Facebook recognized that this was a major concern and committed to continuing to develop its detection processes:
“We know that operations like these will continue to evolve their tactics in response to both the changing information environment, but also in response to our detection and deletions. Over time, it has become clear that the more we and other members of the advocacy community learn about them. deceptive behavior and technical signals associated with particular threat actors, the more consistent we are now in detecting them earlier in their lifecycle, making it harder for these campaigns to go undetected for long periods of time. ”
Which is a positive sign, but the latest findings underscore the need for extreme vigilance and to consider the broader impacts of these efforts in regions where digital adoption is increasing.
Facebook has seen significant growth in Africa in recent years and plans to boost it with increased investment in connectivity.
Earlier this year, Facebook engaged over a billion dollars to the development of a new ‘2Africa’ submarine cable link to improve connectivity across the continent.
With that comes an added responsibility to provide protection to these newly logged in users, as, obviously, opportunistic groups will seek to use the platform to manipulate political situations wherever they can.
Facebook is working to address this issue, but it is a key area of global concern, which could have far-reaching impacts if such efforts proliferate.
You can read more about Facebook’s latest detection and enforcement efforts here.