The IRA is Outsourcing to Africa

I’ve been looking this week at new developments in Russian trolling.

Pressure from Western governments on the companies, as well as pressure from users, has forced the hand of Twitter and Facebook. Tech companies are beginning to pay more attention to Russian trolling campaigns. And in response, Russian troll farms have become more creative.

Earlier this year both Twitter and Facebook released reports on Foreign Influence Campaigning, and noted that the Internet Research Agency is back, but they’re operating differently this time. The Russian IRA is the St Petersburg troll farm pushing a Kremlin agenda of destabilisation around the world. They’re the Russian online operation behind the 2016 US Presidential election.

And the social networks say they’re back, and working to amplify racial division in the US and Europe. What’s different this time is that they’re operating out of Africa — Nigeria and Ghana specifically.

To corroborate, CNN conducted its own investigation, actually touring a troll house in Ghana, shooting video of Ghanaians pushing social media messaging on social justice issues to an American audience. What’s interesting is they weren’t focussed on the election — rather on larger social justice issues. 

Graphika, the disinformation and data research agency in New York, noted that the campaign relied on a Ghana-based NGO as a proxy and that some of operators had no idea of the real nature of their work. Chief Innovation Officer Camille Francois claims it demonstrates an appetite amongst foreign actors to get more creative with their operations, and also shows they can operate from nearly anywhere.

Facebook removed at least 49 relevant accounts earlier this year, while Twitter removed 71, and at the same time reminded users that these were amplification operations, saying they see far more domestic attempts to spread disinformation, than they see foreign.