(Reuters) Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc said on Thursday they had taken down a network of Russian-linked fake accounts operated out of Ghana and Nigeria which targeted the United States.
Facebook told reporters that the network, which it removed from Facebook and Instagram for engaging in foreign interference, was in the early stages of building audiences and was operated by local nationals, some wittingly and some unwittingly, on behalf of individuals in Russia.
Facebook said its investigation found links to an NGO in Ghana called EBLA, or “Eliminating Barriers to the Liberation of Africa,” and individuals associated with past activity by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), a St Petersburg-based “troll factory” that U.S. intelligence officials say aimed to interfere in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
The accounts in the new takedown managed Facebook pages posing as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or personal blogs, or posting in Facebook groups.
They focused on topics such as black history, black excellence and fashion, celebrity gossip, U.S. news, and LGBTQ issues. They also shared negative content about oppression and police brutality.
A CNN investigation found that accounts in Ghana and Nigeria claimed they belonged to people in the United States such as in Brooklyn or New Orleans. One account posed in a Facebook group as the cousin of an African American who died in police custody.
“This activity did not appear to focus on elections, or promote or denigrate political candidates,” Facebook said in a blog post.
Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, told reporters on a conference call that the network’s technique appeared
“to be attempting to create an NGO that had real-world people working for it on the ground in Ghana as a way to build legitimacy for their narratives and use that to message out.”
EBLA’s website says it is “a network of strong advocates of human rights” and “employs the cyber activism approach.” CNN, which went to EBLA’s headquarters in Ghana, reported that Ghanaian security services had raided the EBLA compound in February. EBLA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Twitter characterized the accounts, many of which were created in July 2019, as “attempting to sow discord by engaging in conversations about social issues, like race and civil rights.”
Social media companies are under pressure to police foreign and domestic misinformation on their platforms, particularly since U.S. intelligence officials said that Russia used social media platforms for an influence operation aimed at electing President Donald Trump – a claim that Moscow has denied.