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How to Spend $800,000 on Facebook to Influence African Elections

By Wayan Vota on May 30, 2019

facebook fake nigeria elections

Recently, Facebook announced it removed 265 fake Facebook and Instagram accounts, Facebook Pages, Groups and events involved in a coordinated attempt to influence political events and elections in Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, Tunisia, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Facebook says that an Israeli commercial entity, Archimedes Group, that advertised its deliberate efforts to conduct disinformation campaigns, used their network of fake Facebook accounts to run their Pages, disseminate their content, and artificially increase engagement.

Specificity, the Archimedes Group spent $812,000 on Facebook to promote:

  • 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts.
  • 9 events hosted by Pages that interacted with 2,00 people. The first event was scheduled for October 2017 and the most recent was scheduled for May 2019.

Now what did Archimedes Group get for its network of fake Facebook accounts and $800K advertising spend? Well, Facebook says that they had about:

Fake Accounts Influence Nigeria’s National Elections

Many of the Archimedes Group’s fake Facebook accounts represented themselves as Nigerians, including Nigerian news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians.

According to the Times of Israel, the political news, candidate views, and criticism of political opponents apparently had one clear goal: the reelection of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

One of the fake Pages was filled with viral misinformation praising incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, and attacking Atiku Abubakar, the former Nigerian vice president and Buhari’s main political rival in Februaruy’s elections.

The page’s banner image showed Abubakar as Darth Vader, the Star Wars villain, holding up a sign reading, “Make Nigeria Worse Again.” Another page with almost identical visuals, supported Abubakar, with the slogan “Team Atiku For President.”

Yet another page boosted Buhari, with amateur videos celebrating his administration’s accomplishments, downplaying his tight battle for re-election.

Fake Facebook Pages Influence Rivers State Elections

Archimedes Group’s fake Facebook accounts didn’t just play significant roles in presidential campaigns to try and change reality according to their still anonymous client’s wishes.

Yet more fake Facebook pages targeted the state-level Rivers State elections in Nigeria’s oil-rich yet politically volatile south. Fake Pages tried to discredit candidates from Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party and boost their opponents.

Artificially amplified audience engagement on one fake Page, called “Rivers Violence Watch,” disseminated biased political propaganda while pretending to be a neutral monitor of election violence. Sadly, the Rivers State election was marred by widespread violence.

Fake News Sharing on Facebook Continues

facebook fake nigeria elections

Even though more than a dozen media outlets joined forces before the election for a fact-checking initiative, fake news and fake Facebook accounts were very prominent in Nigeria’s elections, and played a central role in the recent national election.

Some rumors became so popular that Buhari had to make public declarations against them, like one that said he died and was replaced by a clone.

In addition, Al Jazeera found that it could buy fake news advertisements on Facebook, for example, that Boko Haram had announced a presidential candidate.

Fake news on Facebook didn’t stop after the election ended with Buhari winning re-election. For example, a story shared on Exclusive 103’s Facebook Page claims Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission is thinking of cancelling Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election. The story appeared on the fan page of Atiku Abubakar in March 2019.

However, Rotimi Oyekanmi, chief press secretary to the INEC chair, said that post was fake news. In fact, INEC is not reconsidering the 2019 presidential election.

What Can We Do About Fake Facebook Accounts?

Fake social media accounts are not new, nor are they confined to African countries. Russia used fake Facebook accounts in the USA elections and UK’s Brexit vote. So what can we do about fake news on fake Facebook accounts?

We can support better government regulation.

For example, the UK Government’s Online Harms White Paper recommends a package of online safety measures, including legislative and non-legislative measures to make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups.

We can stop promoting Facebook in ICT4D

In addition to it’s fake account problem, Facebook has ongoing data privacy failures – over 21 major privacy scandals in 2018 alone. This brings to the fore another way we can combat what has become a liability in our work: we can stop promoting Facebook in ICT4D.

We can just accept Facebook with all its issues

Finally, there is still one critical aspect that underlies this whole fake Facebook account issue. As Steve Song commented, on Facebook, of course, Facebook and its many subsidiaries is where most of our constituents start conversations and reach new constituents.

That’s why – for better or worse – many development organizations have Facebook chatbots, Facebook Groups, and a WhatsApp engagement strategy.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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