French and Russian Influence Operations Go Head to Head Targeting Audiences in Africa
On December 15, Facebook announced that it had taken down three separate networks that it had discovered for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that targeted communities across Africa. One, centered on the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, was linked to individuals associated with the French military. The other two, centered respectively on CAR and Libya, were connected to the business and influence operations of Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary organization Wagner Group and the Internet Research Agency “troll farm.” The French and Russian operations in the CAR tried to expose each other, and repeatedly clashed in groups, comments, and cartoon wars.
Facebook’s takedown marks a rare exposure of rival operations from two different countries going head to head for influence over a third country. It underscores how geopolitical sparring on the ground in Africa is playing out in parallel across social media – not just Facebook, but also Twitter, YouTube, and long-form news articles written by the operations. Before the takedown, Facebook shared assets with Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory for independent analysis.
The clash between the two troll operations in CAR sets this exposure apart. From January 2020 through to the moment of the takedown, the rival influence operations posted in the same groups, commented on each other’s posts, called each other out as “fake news,” conducted basic open-source analysis to expose each other’s fake accounts, friended each other, shared each other’s posts, and even, according to one source, tried to entrap each other with direct messages. This report is a case study in a battle between rival influence operations; for that reason, we have called this report exposing both operations and their overlap “More-troll Kombat.”