Less than a week after the Africa-Russia Summit, Facebook has suspended three networks of Russian accounts it says were engaging in foreign interference in Africa.
Facebook said the accounts targeted Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon. The accounts supported select political figures and derided pro-democracy activists in the countries.
Russia has had an increasing interest in engaging with African countries on trade and policy as sanctions continue to hurt its economy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin organized the first Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum, which promoted increased economic relations between Russia and the continent earlier in October in Sochi, Russia.
According to documents leaked by The Guardian, companies and groups affiliated with the Russian government have been cooperating with African politicians and interfering in elections. According to the documents, Madagascar’s president Andry Rajoelina won the election with Russian support. Rajoelina has denied the allegation.
The Stanford Internet Observatory also reported that Russia was working with local media organizations on the African continent to spread disinformation.
This represents a new tactic compared to what occurred with Russian influence ahead of the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
The three networks are among the first subjects of Facebook's new policies aimed at curbing “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Facebook defined coordinated inauthentic behavior in an October press release as using fake accounts and deceiving people on the origins of pages and groups.
According to The Stanford Internet Observatory, a total of 1.72 million accounts "liked" the now removed Facebook pages. Though some of these "likes" could be from the same account across multiple pages.
The removal of the networks demonstrates Facebook’s commitment to prevent manipulation on its platforms, but it also shows the evolving nature of Russian methods since 2016.