Facebook and the French: Some Tension Perhaps?

January 15, 2021

For the first time Facebook is calling out a individuals connected to a Western military for conducting a propaganda campaign on its platforms. CNN reports, “Facebook Accuses People Tied to French Military of Running Troll Accounts.” Even more intriguing, the accounts resembled and interacted with similar Russian troll accounts. Reporter Donie O’Sullivan writes:

“The deceptive tactics allegedly used, which include using Facebook to pose as locals in the targeted countries, mirror misinformation campaigns run by the Russian government. … According to Facebook, the operations targeted the ‘Central African Republic and Mali, and to a lesser extent Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Chad.’ Facebook removed the accounts and also announced on Tuesday that it had removed accounts, also posing as Africans, that were linked to Russian troll group. In some cases, Facebook said, the fake French and Russian accounts even interacted with each other.”

Though it is not new to see influence campaigns target the same regions, their actively engaging each other is. Facebook says it found the two sides commenting on each other’s posts, befriending each other, and denouncing each other for being fake. Russian trolls operating in Africa, we’re told, are connected to the group that allegedly acted to influence the 2016 US presidential election. O’Sullivan continues:

“Facebook said the alleged French accounts ‘posted primarily in French and Arabic about news and current events including France’s policies in Francophone Africa, the security situation in various African countries, claims of potential Russian interference in the election in the Central African Republic (CAR), supportive commentary about French military, and criticism of Russia’s involvement in CAR.’ Elections are due to take place in CAR later this month. One post in French read, ‘The Russian imperialists are a gangrene on Mali! Watch out for the tsarist lobotomy!’ The alleged Russian accounts, in turn, criticized the French.”

Wow—gangrene imperialists and tsarist lobotomies! I suppose trolls are not known for their subtlety. Facebook has removed about 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts, with a total of about 5,000 followers, tied to the alleged French operation. It also shuttered two networks of pages linked to Russia, which had about 6 million followers. For its part, the French Defense Ministry neither confirmed nor denied its involvement. Russia continues to deny it has ever engaged in such tactics.

Cynthia Murrell, January 15, 2021

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