French and Russian Trolling in Africa

From ADTAC Disinformation Inventory

On December 15th 2020 Facebook announced it had taken down three networks that were found to be using “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that targeted users across Africa.[1] One network was associated with individuals with connection to the French military. The other two networks were Russian influence operations connected with Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Mr. Prigozhin founded the Internet Research Agency known for conducting disinformation campaigns worldwide.[2]

The Russian influence campaign coopted locals who were often unknowingly led a lot. They posted frequently about local politics and tried to influence CAR elections. The campaign also praised Russia’s engagement in CAR and condemned France and the United Nations mission. They focused on Southern Africa and CAR.[3]

The French influence campaign focused on Mali and CAR and had a more minor presence in Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad. In CAR they only posted about Russian interference and Russian trolls. They avoided posting about electoral politics and the upcoming elections. In Mali they praised the Malian and French militaries while attacking the jihadist groups they were combatting.[4]

The French and Russian operations acted as rivals. They posted in the same groups, commented on each other’s posts, tried to prove the other operation was “fake news”, the tried to expose each other’s fake accounts, shared posts from the opposition, and directly messaged each other. They created insulting videos and memes and made false accusations against each other. Both sides used doctored evidence to support their views. The Russian operation had some false news outlets and the French posed as fact-checkers. Both sides used stolen photos as profile pictures for their fake personas. It is notable that the Russian accounts were able to garner far more followers than the French operation.[5]

Both operations first identified prominent online communities in Central African politics and diplomacy and targeted them. Both operations were posting in the same communities. Both operations targeted each other and mistakenly targeted real users as inauthentic. Oddly both campaigns began to amplify the content of the other’s and many trolls friended each other.[6]

The Russian operation had been exposed by Facebook in 2019 and the French operation appears to have been a response designed to counteract them. Because the French operation had mixed intentions in initially trying to counter the disinformation campaign but instead began to sow more chaos online. [7]