Facebook took down a campaign, comprised of fake accounts, that it characterized as being associated with the French military. It also took down two other campaigns emanating from Russia. All three campaigns were taken down for trying to use deceptive tactics to influence people.
The target audience for the French accounts’ covert influence campaigns was in Africa, Facebook said. Their efforts mainly targeted the “Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Chad.” The online activity from France included a total of 84 Facebook accounts, six pages, nine groups, and 14 Instagram accounts that violated Facebook’s policy against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The activity shut down from Russia consisted of 63 Facebook accounts, 29 Pages, seven groups, and one Instagram account for coordinated inauthentic behavior. This campaign focused primarily on the Central African Republic (CAR), and to a lesser extent on Madagascar, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, South Africa.
Al Jazeera reported that the two Russian campaigns were tied to “individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency,” as well as to Evgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin is a Russian businessman, known as “Putin’s chef.” He is the owner of the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group.
Al Jazeera also reported that Prigozhin said to Reuters in a statement that he considers Facebook a CIA tool that takes down pages to suit U.S. interests. In the past, Prigozhin had denied U.S. charges of trying to illegally influence the American presidential election.
Regarding the French campaign, Facebook couldn’t say whether it was directed by the French military itself, only that it was run by “individuals associated” with the military. The French military released a statement saying that it would neither confirm nor deny accusations of involvement.
“Alongside the UN and its European partners (EUTM-RCA), France takes an active part in the international community’s efforts to bring back peace and stability in this country,” the French Defense Ministry wrote.
“For some long months, we have been observing an increase in the power of disinformation aimed at destabilizing the country, acts that we condemn,” the ministry continued. It added that it would look into the allegations.
Facebook’s Head of Security Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, and David Agranovich, Head of Global Threat Disruption, said in a blog that the campaigns not only dueled with each other but befriended one another online.
The campaigns’ fake accounts were accusing each other of nefarious behavior in Africa (see screenshot below). Another post in French read, “The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali! Watch out for the tsarist lobotomy!”
The alleged Russian accounts then blasted the French, with a tongue in cheek accusation of France causing the coup in Mali. One post read, “Another coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea? Southern African Development Community.”
“This was the first time our team found two campaigns — from France and Russia — actively engage with one another, including by befriending, commenting and criticizing the opposing side for being fake,” Facebook said.
The campaigns “used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action,” Facebook said.
“We shared information about our findings with law enforcement and industry partners. We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing effort and we’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead,” Gleicher wrote.
Facebook’s blog post by Gleicher can be read in its entirety here.