The Russian disinformation campaign against former French colonies - Digital Threat Digest
PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.
Digital Threat Digest
Almost a year and a half after it started, the war still rages on between Russia and Ukraine. Russia continues to spread disinformation about its need to eradicate Nazism in Ukraine, target NATO and advocate for an ‘anti-Western’ ideology. They do this mainly to bolster support for Russia, but also to denigrate Ukraine to the rest of the world.
If you happen to be floating around social media, you may have come across several profiles or pages donning a Russian flag or Vladimir Putin’s face. The page is probably titled something like “friends of Russia”, and is likely an account seeding pro-Russian disinformation, boosting support for Russian assaults on Ukraine. Additionally, some even claim to be independent media channels monitoring and reporting on the invasion – but these pages spread false information that mirrors and bolsters Russia’s narratives.
Over the past year, a flood of pro-Russian content has increasingly been surfacing on news outlets and social media platforms in Africa. There have been a few reports of popular French-speaking media pages suddenly pivoting to touting Russian interests. Using ‘bait-and-switch’ techniques, these pages first share humorous or viral content to collect followers before re-branding and posting videos on the invasion or international politics. Most importantly, these pages copy videos from banned Russian media, pro-Kremlin influencers, and Russian supporters in France’s political sphere. Not limited to a single platform, these pro-Russia channels have appeared across platforms and continue to do so, highlighting the scope and reach of the social media Russosphere.
These pages/channels target French-speaking Africa, and they aim to amplify Russia’s voice in those regions but also to deteriorate European and American influence and support. The ‘anti-West’ narrative has hit the right spot for former colonial countries in the Sahel Region wanting to distance themselves from their former European influences. Just recently, pro-coup protesters in Niger vandalised the French embassy in Niamey while carrying Russian flags and signs reading, “Down with France, long live Russia”. Similarly in Burkina Faso, which had a military coup late last year, Russian support has recently soared amongst its citizens.
With much of the world shunning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Putin appears to be making a bid to pull more African countries under its sway. Russia is exploiting former French colonies with severe poverty, political instability, depleted national resources and insurgency threats – taking advantage of the deep resentment of France’s colonial legacy.
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