Facebook says it has shut down a network of fake news accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users, ahead of next week’s elections.
In a statement, Facebook’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they were and what they were doing.
“We removed 65 Facebook accounts, 52 pages, 27 groups, and 32 accounts on Instagram for violating our policy against coordinated inauthentic bevaiour. This network originated in and focused on domestic audiences in Ethiopia,” said Gleicher.
He said the network was linked to the country’s cyber-security agency.
“This network posted primarily in Amharic about news and current events in Ethiopia, including the Prosperity party, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and criticism of Egypt and Sudan related to Ethiopia’s mega dam project.
1/ Today we announced the removal of a CIB network in Ethiopia targeting domestic debate within that country. Our investigation linked this operation to individuals associated with INSA, the Information Network Security Agency. https://t.co/gXsOEVWg01
— Nathaniel Gleicher (@ngleicher) June 16, 2021
“They also posted critical commentary about various opposition politicians and groups in Ethiopia, including Oromo Liberation Front, Ethiopian Democratic Party, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front among others,” said Gleicher.
Most recently, they commented about protests against the US sanctions on Ethiopia, he said adding that: “We assess that this activity was not directly focused on the Tigray region or the ongoing conflict in Tigray.
“We found this network as part of our internal investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. Although the people behind it attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with INSA, the Information Network Security Agency in Ethiopia.”
The development came as prime minister Abiy was set to face voters at the ballot box in Africa’s second populous nation.
According to Reauters, just over a fifth of parliamentary constituencies are not voting due to logistical problems, low-level violence or due to the war in the northern region of Tigray.
Facebook said about 1.1 million accounts followed one or more of the network’s pages and about 766 000 accounts joined one or more of the groups. It also said the network had spent about $6,200 in ads on the platforms, paid for in US dollars.