UPDATED 22:20 EST / OCTOBER 30 2019

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Facebook suspends accounts linked to Russia that targeted African nations

Facebook Inc. reported today that it has removed a number of Russian-backed accounts it said were targeting countries in Africa with misinformation.

In a blog post, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said there was coordinated “inauthentic” behavior spreading misinformation in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya.

As in other trolling campaigns that have been linked to Russia, Facebook said the accounts mislead people about whom they were and what their purpose was. This time, though, Facebook said the purged accounts could be linked to Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, sometimes called “Putin’s chef,” has been indicted in the U.S. for his alleged interference in the 2016 elections. The wealthy businessman is said to have created a global disinformation media empire and has funded Russia’s notorious troll farm, the Internet Research Agency.

Some 35 Facebook accounts, 53 pages, seven groups and five Instagram accounts that targeted various nations were removed. According to the company, 475,000 people followed these pages, while just 450 people followed one of more of the groups. The Instagram accounts were followed by 650 people. Furthermore, $77,000 was spent on advertising on Facebook.

There was more attention focused only on Sudan, with 17 Facebook accounts, 18 pages, three groups and six accounts on Instagram removed for inauthentic behavior. Some 457,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages, 1,300 accounts joined at least one of the groups and about 2,900 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. Just $160 was spent on advertising.

Facebook provided some examples of the content aimed at Sudanese Facebook users, and much of it was pro-Russia and anti-U.S. The same goes for accounts in Libya. Again a number of pages and froups were removed and the content mostly criticized U.S. foreign policy.

This is all seen as Russia attempting to gain more influence in African nations, something that could be called a digital scramble for Africa.

“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” Gleicher told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”

Image: Max Barners/Flickr

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