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2019 POLLS: How Israeli firm ‘spread propaganda, manipulated voters on Facebook’

Facebook has announced that it had removed a set of 265 Facebook and Instagram assets, created by a Tel Aviv, Israel-based Archimedes Group for interfering with elections, which included the recent Nigeria’s February/March 2019 general elections.

 

The American online social media and social networking service company on May 16 accused Archimedes of spreading propaganda and manipulating voters in Nigeria and some other African countries, Asia and Latin America, according to an internal investigation launched by Facebook into inauthentic behaviour on its platform.

It removed the accounts, pages, groups and events that were deemed to be fake or used to disseminate deliberately manipulative content.

Around 2.8 million Facebook accounts followed one or more of these pages, with various events organised by the pages’ creators.

According to Archimedes Group’s website, the firm is in the business of “winning campaigns worldwide”, using unconventional methods when necessary. “Archimedes has created and operates in its own unique field within the social media realm,” the site states.

“When approaching a client’s challenge, we address all possible facets relating to it. We then formulate a concise yet comprehensive solution that will use every tool and take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.”

While Facebook identified Archimedes Group as the source of some of the activity, other individuals or organisations that may have been behind the campaigns could not be identified.

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“This activity originated in Israel and focussed on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and southeast Asia,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in a blogpost detailing the campaign.

“The page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.

“As in other cases involving coordinated inauthentic behaviour, the individuals behind this activity coordinated with one another to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing, and that was the basis for our action.”

Many of the pages included in this take-down focused on the February 2019 Nigerian elections that saw Muhammadu Buhari re-elected as president of the country.

One of the pages taken down, “Make Nigeria Worse Again,” appeared to be a trolling campaign aimed at Atiku Abubakar, former vice president of Nigeria and Buhari’s main opponent. The page included a banner image of Abubakar as Darth Vader, the notorious Star Wars villain.

The DFRLab also found a highly similar page, “Team Atiku For President,” that aimed at reinforcing support for Abubakar’s presidential campaign. It is unclear why the network carried both a pro and counter operation related to Abubakar, but the supportive page was likely designed to identify his supporters in order to target them with anti-Abubakar content later, possibly diverting them to the “Make Nigeria Worse Again” page.

Another page, “Imagine a Nigeria without Buhari,” aimed to bolster support for Buhari’s candidacy. Some of the posts hypothetically eulogized Buhari’s presidential tenure as if he had not been reelected, in order to convince voters of his accomplishments.

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A video uploaded by a Nigerian page that aimed at garnering support for Buhari’s candidacy by eulogizing his presidency, despite the fact that the elections had yet to happen. (Source: Imagine a Nigeria without Buhari/archive)

Another faux eulogy post by the same page, this time implying that Abubakar’s PDP Party would “kill Nigeria.”

 

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