French and Russian Facebook trolls fight in CAR elections | Election News


Facebook said competing French and Russian disinformation campaigns sought to deceive internet users – and unmask themselves – in the Central African Republic (CAR) ahead of the presidential and legislative elections on December 27.
The social media giant said on Tuesday it was the first time it had witnessed such a direct battle of trolls by competing foreign states on its platforms, with rivals’ fake accounts denouncing each other as “fake news.” “.

The company said it suspended three networks totaling nearly 500 accounts and pages for so-called “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

A network was linked to “individuals associated with the French army,” he said. The other two had ties to “individuals associated with past activities of the Russian Internet Research Agency”, as well as to Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman indicted in the United States for election interference.

There was no immediate comment from the French defense ministry and military command. Asked about the allegations about Africa, Prigozhin, who denied the US accusations, told Reuters news agency in a post that he saw Facebook as a CIA tool that was removing pages to serve US interests .

Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cyber ​​Security Policy at Facebook, said: “You can’t fight fire with fire. We have these two efforts on different sides of these issues using the same tactics and techniques, and they end up looking the same.

CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera is an ally of Russia, a relationship often seen as a threat to France’s influence in the French-speaking country where Paris had deployed 2,500 troops until 2016.

The recent return of former President François Bozize to the country where he sought to run for office raised fears of a return to violence

A former five-star general, Bozize, 74, seized power in 2003 before being overthrown a decade later by the Seleka, a rebel coalition largely drawn from the Muslim minority.

The 2013 coup d’état sparked a bloodbath between the Seleka and the so-called “anti-balaka” self-defense forces, mainly Christian and animist.

France intervened militarily to expel the Seleka, ending the operation after the election of Faustin-Archange Touadera in 2016 following a transition.

On Tuesday, however, Bozize reversed his decision to run for the country’s highest office, which he filed in July, announcing that he had accepted a decision by the country’s highest court to bar him from running. in the elections.

Facebook said both disinformation campaigns focused largely on CAR, but also targeted users in 13 other African countries, including Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Sudan.

Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at social media analytics firm Graphika, said both campaigns used fake accounts to impersonate locals, sometimes sharing doctored photos.

The French effort began in mid-2019 and pushed forward pro-French messages before targeting “fake Russian news” when Facebook ended a Russian disinformation operation last year.

A subsequent Russian operation attempted to promote Russian commercial and diplomatic interests, as well as Touadera’s candidacy, Nimmo said. Later, the Russian accounts tried to unmask the French accounts which tried to unmask them.

Neither side has built a large audience in the CAR, added Nimmo. “They looked like two teams of trolls fighting, no one else was really paying attention.


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