Facebook Uncovers Russian Disinformation Campaign in Africa in Prelude to 2020 U.S. Elections

Attendees walk past a Facebook logo at the company’s developers conference in San Jose, Calif., April 30, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Facebook announced on Wednesday that it had removed three Russian-backed influence networks from its platform that targeted several African countries including Cameroon, Mozambique, Libya, and Sudan.

The networks posted information in Arabic critical of U.S. and French policies in Africa, while praising Russian initiatives in the region. Russian operatives worked with local citizens to set up Facebook accounts that appeared more authentic.

“They are trying to make it harder for us and civil society to try and detect their operations,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, told the New York Times.

Director of the Stanford Internet Observatory Alex Stamos, himself a former Facebook executive, said the Russian campaign in Africa will have implications for the 2020 presidential elections.

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“We will see a model where American groups are used as proxies, where all the content is published under their accounts and their pages,” Stamos said.

The Russian networks are linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for interfering in U.S. elections.

When the State Department announced new sanctions on Prigozhin in September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will not tolerate any interference in the voting process.

“We have been clear: We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “The United States will continue to push back against malign actors who seek to subvert our democratic processes and we will not hesitate to impose further costs on Russia for its destabilizing and unacceptable activities.”

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