"Facebook just took down two foreign influence ops that it discovered going head to head in the Central African Republic, as well as targeting other countries," says Graphika's Ben Nimmo. "More-troll Kombat, you might say."
From the introduction to the Graphika report MORE TROLL KOMBAT:
On December 15, Facebook announced that it had taken down three separate networks that it had discovered for "coordinated inauthentic behavior" that targeted communities across Africa. One, centered on the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, was linked to individuals associated with the French military. The other two, centered respectively on CAR and Libya, were connected to the business and influence operations of Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary organization Wagner Group and the Internet Research Agency "troll farm." The French and Russian operations in the CAR tried to expose each other, and repeatedly clashed in groups, comments, and cartoon wars.
We have documented the first of the Russian operations in a joint report with Stanford University entitled "Stoking Conflict by Keystroke"; this report focuses on the French and Russian operations that targeted CAR. For the sake of brevity, the operation linked to individuals with ties to the French military will be referred to as the "French operation" in this report, while the Russian operation attributed to individuals associated with past activity by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and previous operations attributed to entities associated with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin is referred to as the "Russian operation" in this report. It is worth highlighting that Facebook did not attribute the operation directly to the French Government or the French military, and that this report similarly does not offer evidence of institutional involvement from French governmental and military entities.
Facebook's takedown marks a rare exposure of rival operations from two different countries going head to head for influence over a third country. It underscores how geopolitical sparring on the ground in Africa is playing out in parallel across social media – not just Facebook, but also Twitter, YouTube, and long-form news articles written by the operations. Before the takedown, Facebook shared assets with Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory for independent analysis.
The clash between the two troll operations in CAR sets this exposure apart. From January 2020 through to the moment of the takedown, the rival influence operations posted in the same groups, commented on each other's posts, called each other out as "fake news," conducted basic open-source analysis to expose each other's fake accounts, friended each other, shared each other's posts, and even, according to one source, tried to entrap each other with direct messages. This report is a case study in a battle between rival influence operations; for that reason, we have called this report exposing both operations and their overlap "More-troll Kombat."