Russian Operatives Are Apparently Taking Their Disinformation Campaign on the Road—Moving From African Americans to the African Continent

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The Russians targeted African Americans in the run-up to election 2016 with deceptive social media accounts and websites purporting to be legitimate sources of information, and now, it looks like they’ve taken their disinformation campaign across the ocean to Africa.

Facebook says it’s shut down accounts linked to a Russian operative that were targeting several African nations, as the Bangkok Post reports:

The accounts originated in Russia and targeted Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, according to Facebook.

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“Each of these operations created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Facebook cybersecurity chief Nathaniel Gleicher said in a statement, according to the Post. “We have shared information about our findings with law enforcement, policymakers and industry partners.”

As the New York Times explains, the networks

targeted several countries through Arabic-language posts, according to the Stanford Internet Observatory, which collaborated with Facebook to unravel the effort. Russians also worked with locals in the African countries to set up Facebook accounts that were disguised as authentic to avoid detection.

Some of the posts promoted Russian policies, while others criticized French and American policies in Africa.

The man said to be linked to the fake accounts, authorities said, is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian business leader who’s been indicted in the U.S. on charges connected to Russian meddling in the U.S.’s 2016 presidential race that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

As the Times reports, Prigozhin was the force behind Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an organization U.S. authorities say was responsible for thousands of fake posts on Facebook meant to disrupt election 2016.

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The latest findings regarding Africa indicated a much more expansive operation, with about 4 times the number of posts placed on Facebook than were sent out during election 2016 in the U.S., according to the Times.

The implications are clear for what the Russians may have in the works for the U.S. in advance of next year’s elections, authorities told the Times.

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Per the Times:

Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and a former Facebook executive, said [...] it was highly likely that Russian groups were already using the same model of working with locals in the United States to post inflammatory messages on Facebook. By employing locals, he said, Russians did not need to set up fake accounts or create accounts that originated in Russia, making it easier to sidestep being noticed.

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