Facebook has banned an Israeli political consultancy, Archimedes Group, from its platform after it was found to have distributed ‘fake news’ around several African elections with a focus on Nigeria, Angola, Senegal, Togo, Niger and Tunisia.
Archimedes, which claims to have played a significant role in political and public campaigns including social media projects across the globe, has not commented publicly on the matter.
While explaining the conduct of the firm’s fake pages and reason for the ban, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy said:
“The administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.”
Facebook has been trying to do away with the generation and dissemination of false information on its platform, this includes banning fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram, such as that of the Archimedes Group.
The administrators also artificially increased this engagement online, under the guise of falsely created accounts of ‘concerned locals’ or legitimate local news organisations. Archimedes spent over $800,000 on Facebook ads from 2012 to April this year and managed to garner 2.8 million followers, media reports said.
The illegal use of social media by external parties to derail democratic processes in Africa is a growing concern with one of the most notable previous cases having been seen in Nigeria’s 2015 elections.
In 2015, Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm were enlisted to propagate falsehoods in favour of then-president Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaign against Muhammadu Buhari. Cambridge Analytica combined data mining, data brokerage and data analysis with ‘strategic communication’ during the electoral processes.
Former staffers reported alarming behaviour at the company which included being instructed by senior directors, such as now suspended Chief Executive, Alexander Nix, to handle material provided by computer hackers in election campaigns.
“We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles,” said a former employee in an interview with Uk’s Guardian newspaper. The employee said several illegal tasks were allocated to them on social media as well.
While Malawi has not been included in Facebook’s Archimedes Group report, she remains an area of concern, as the incidence of fake news being disseminated has been on the rise. This is especially peculiar as the country’s internet penetration sits at just 14% against its 18 million population.
With their elections approaching on May 21, Africans will be closely observing this trend.
“Despite low internet access, people who get online and pick up fake information end up discussing these emerging issues in their neighbourhoods, social gatherings and in many public places…with election campaigns for president, members of parliament and local government councillors now at a fever pitch, Malawians are eager to hear election news and it’s driving a proliferation of fake news mainly through Facebook and WhatsApp,” said Business & Human Rights Resource Centre after a study on the matter.
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