Their company, Percepto International, was a pioneer in what’s known as the disinformation-for-hire business. They were skilled in deceptive tricks of social media, reeling people into an online world comprised of fake journalists, news outlets and everyday citizens whose posts were intended to bolster support for [president Roch Marc] Kaboré’s government and undercut its critics. But as Percepto began to survey the online landscape across Burkina Faso and the surrounding French-speaking Sahel region of Africa in 2021, they quickly saw that the local political adversaries and Islamic extremists they had been hired to combat were not Kaboré’s biggest adversary. The real threat, they concluded, came from Russia, which was running what appeared to be a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing Burkina Faso and other democratically-elected governments on its borders.
Pro-Russian fake news sites populated YouTube and pro-Russian groups abounded on Facebook. Local influencers used WhatsApp and Telegram groups to organize pro-Russian demonstrations and praise Russian President Vladimir Putin. Facebook fan pages even hailed the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary network run by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the late one-time Putin ally whose Internet Research Agency launched a disinformation campaign in the United States to influence the 2016 presidential election… Percepto didn’t know the full scope of the operation it had uncovered but it warned Kaboré’s government that it needed to move fast: Launch a counteroffensive online — or risk getting pushed out in a coup.
Three years later, the governments of five former French colonies, including Burkina Faso, have been toppled. The new leaders of two of those countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, are overtly pro-Russian; in a third, Niger, the prime minister installed after a July coup has met recently with the Russian ambassador. In Mali and the Central African Republic, French troops have been replaced with Wagner mercenaries…
Percepto’s experience in French-speaking Africa offers a rare window into the round-the-clock information warfare that is shaping international politics — and the booming business of disinformation-for-hire. Meta, the social media company that operates Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, says that since 2017 it has detected more than 200 clandestine influence operations, many of them mercenary campaigns, in 68 countries.
The article also makes an interesting point. “The burden of battling disinformation has fallen entirely on Silicon Valley companies.”
Originally Posted at https://slashdot.org/