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Facebook removes Russian-linked accounts targeting African countries

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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019 -
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Facebook has removed Russian-linked accounts targeting African countries.

The almost 200 accounts were linked to Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was indicted by the US Department of Justice for his role in Russian meddling in the country's 2016 election. Prigozhin has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The accounts, pages, and groups - including some Instagram accounts - targeted eight African countries with posts that favoured Russian policies in Africa and had over one million followers.

The network used a combination of fake and authentic accounts to post content, Facebook said.

In some countries such as Madagascar, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the individuals posted criticism of French and U.S. policies.

The operation targeting Libya shared stories from Russian-state controlled media and posted on a range of topics from politics to natural disasters and militia violence.

The advertising in the eight countries was worth just under €80,000, paid for in US dollars, euros, Russian rubles, and Egyptian pounds.

"We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people... In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action," wrote Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, in a blog post announcing that they had removed the pages.

Facebook said the tip came from researchers working at the Stanford Internet Observatory, a centre for cyber policy at the university run by the former chief security officer at Facebook, Alex Stamos.

"Russia’s global strategy for reasserting itself as a geopolitical superpower has led to an increased presence in Africa, where it has broadened efforts to shape the continent’s politics and pursue new economic opportunities to allay the effects of sanctions," researchers Shelby Grossman, Daniel Bush, and Renée DiResta wrote in their white paper on Russian-linked influence operations in the African countries.

Facebook said they had shared the findings with "law enforcement, policymakers and industry partners."

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