LONDON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook said on Wednesday it had suspended three networks of Russian accounts that attempted to interfere in the domestic politics of eight African countries, and were tied to a Russian businessman accused of meddling in past U.S. elections.
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration photo, March 20, 2018. Picture taken March 20. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
The campaigns targeted people in Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan and Libya, Facebook said. They used almost 200 fake and compromised accounts to reach more than 1 million followers in the eight African countries.
All the networks were connected to “entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin”, Facebook said. Prigozhin has previously denied wrongdoing. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest Facebook accusations involving African countries.
Prigozhin has been indicted by U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller as a principal figure behind an alleged Russian “troll farm” accused of trying to sway elections in the United States with covert social media campaigns.
In some of the African countries, the Russian-run networks worked with local citizens to better disguise their origins and target Internet users, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy.
“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” he told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”
Facebook declined to identify which local people or organizations had worked with the accounts or which companies it had connected to the activity and Prigozhin, a catering tycoon nicknamed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because of banquets he has organized for the Russian leader.
But researchers at Stanford University, who worked with Facebook on its investigation, said the companies included the Wagner Group – a firm of military contractors that sources have previously told Reuters has carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine and Syria.
Reuters reported last year that the group had expanded into economic and diplomatic work in countries including the Central African Republic as part of a push by Russia to increase its influence in Africa.
Russian authorities deny that Wagner contractors carry out their orders and Moscow has repeatedly rejected Western allegations of election meddling. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wagner has no public profile and has never commented about its activities. Prigozhin has denied links to Wagner.
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