Israeli firm’s smear campaign targeted Atiku, Rivers election on Facebook
An Israeli political marketing firm helped launder the image of the Nigerian president before the country’s general election in February, a report by an American think tank said.
Digital Forensic Research Lab said Tel-Aviv based political consulting and lobbying firm, Archimedes Group, deliberately smeared the image of the opposition candidate and President Muhammadu Buhari’s main challenger Atiku Abubakar on Facebook.
“The tactics employed by Archimedes Group, a private company, closely resemble the types of information warfare tactics often used by governments, and the Kremlin in particular,” Digital Forensic said on Friday in a post on its Medium page.
The social media giant banned Archimedes and its subsidiaries from its platform on Thursday after it discovered its illicit operations.
“It has repeatedly violated our misrepresentation and other policies, including by engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” said Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher on Thursday.
Gleicher said Archimedes also worked in other African countries such as Senegal, Niger, Angola and Tunisia.
65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts linked to the Israeli firm have been taken down.
The banned accounts and pages, Gleicher said, reached about 2.8 million users and were discovered through internal investigations into suspected coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
One of the pages specifically set up for Nigeria by Archimedes is Naija Scandals that was still active on November 22, 2018. Another page, now deleted, “Make Nigeria Worse Again,” was a trolling campaign aimed at Atiku. Atiku’ campaign slogan was “Make Nigeria Work Again.”
The firm also operated a pro-Atiku Facebook page, Digital Forensic Lab said.
Digital Forensic Lab said: “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.”
The River State governorship election, perhaps, the bloodiest governorship contest in the general elections, was also targeted by the Israelis. One of the most popular pages in this category, “Rivers Violence Watch,” Digital Forensics said, claimed to be a neutral monitor of the election but was outright biased.
“The fact the pages were operated by a for-profit company is a troubling sign that highly partisan disinformation is turning into a capital enterprise,” the Digital Forensics’ report said.
According to Associated Press, the overt political posture of the fake Facebook pages, the Digital Forensics lab “could not assign a particular ideological motive to Archimedes’ campaigns, given the diversity and scope of its general operations.”
Investigators in the United Kingdom and the United States said the 2015 general elections were influenced by Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly worked for then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Cambridge Analytica’s malicious campaign targeted Buhari who was the candidate of the opposition party then, the All Progressives Congress.
The campaign also included “anti-election rallies” and a gory video depicting Buhari as an Islamic fundamentalist on a quest to enforce Sharia law in Nigeria said the statement.
But a spokesman for Jonathan said the former president was not aware of Cambridge Analytica’s activities.