de position -
Social media: the French Army's disinformation campaigns in Africa, instruments of French imperialist intervention
For months, the French government, broadcast through all the media, has campaigned against "fake news", false information that is found on the internet, denouncing real and fake intrusions and interferences carried out by foreign powers through social media and accusing large platforms and internet providers of letting them do it.
Legal provisions have been drafted which, amongst other things, obligates these platforms to “promptly” withdraw “manifestly illegal content”: this is the “Avia” law (named after the En Marche PM who drafted the bill) against “hateful content” (sic!) on the Internet, adopted on May 13th 2020. But this law has been partially suppressed by the Constitutional Council which rejected the obligation demanded on platforms.
In order to overturn this decision, the French government is attempting to enact a similar law on the European level, which will forc Facebook, Twitter and others to withdraw, within 24 hours, “not only illegal content, but also other times of content such as disagreeable but not illegal content [...] for example [...] disinformation content.”(1)...
But the French government is hoist by its own petard!
On the 15th of December, Facebook announced, without doubt with wicked pleasure, to have discovered and suppressed fraudulent networks made of fake Facebook and Instagram accounts in Africa; it was able to identify their origin, despite these networks presenting themselves as the work of local inhabitants: it was the French Army (2).
It had created ”84 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, 9 Groups and 14 Instagram accounts”.
Its activity was centred on the Central African Republic and Mali, but also touched Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, the Côte d’Ivoire and Chad. According to the Facebook communique, their publications, in French and in Arabic, were principally about current events, notably on the politics of France and French-speaking Africa, the situation in different African countries, the elections in the Central African Republic and critiques of Russian presence in the country, commentaries in support of the French Army, and more. Relatively many have taken the bait: in fact nearly 5,000 accounts have followed one or the other of these Pages, nearly 1,600 accounts have joined one of these Groups and at least 200 people had followed one of the Instagram accounts; these are numbers that are not negligible for countries where access to the Internet is not always very widespread.
Neither deputy Avia nor any of the other political leaders of the majority appeared to condemn this fake news campaign; politicians across the board - this including the opposition - and the media which had been noisily indignant about the risks manipulations on social networks would put democracy in France into, stayed silently: a demonstration, if there had been a need, of their hypocrisy; they support manipulations when they are in service of French imperialism, and they only condemn “hate” against the government and capitalist interests.
In the same communique, Facebook announced that it had also discovered and suppressed a similar but opposed fraudulent network which principally operated in the Central African Republic, but also in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Cameroon, Madagascar, South Africa, etc.) composed of 63 fake Facebook accounts, 29 Pages, seven Groups and one Instagram account. It was focused on the December 27th elections in the Central African Republic (supporting the incumbent government); criticism of French policy and support for Russian policy was one of its preferred themes. Although this network had tried to camouflage itself by using people living in the Central African Republic and South Africa, and by trying to implicate Central African journalists, Facebook declared that it was able to attribute its origin in the backing of the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries, present in the Central African Republic.
Propaganda on social media (like throughout traditional media), is only the continuation of imperialist intervention through other means: Russia, France but also the United States and others have resorted to this. France, which officially maintains 300 soldiers in the Central African Republic (beside 11,000 UN peacekeepers), wants to avoid miring itself in the Central African swamp - which it has created through decades of presence and military interventions in this little country. But it does not intend to abandon its economic and above all geopolitical interests in a region which is strategically important.
This is why, despite being on bad terms with the current president because he has called upon Russian mercenaries, France spectacularly showcased its support on 23 December by making flights of intimidation with fighter jets above zones held by armed rebels; the message being clear: French imperialism (like Russian imperialism) voted for Touadera and was ready to use arms to ensure his re-election...
The French Army has been caught red-handed employing disinformation services in Africa, but all suggests that similar actions have occurred elsewhere, namely France itself: these services are instruments of bourgeois and imperialist policy. The denunciation of these campaigns must avoid the impasse of a vain and false defense of “democracy” which always serves to camouflage the most sordid capitalist interests: it must describe itself with the perspective of the internationalist proletarian struggle against imperialism.
No to the Army's disinformation campaigns, no to French imperialist interventions, in Africa and elsewhere!
(1) See «La quadrature du net», 22/9/20
(2) https://about.fb.com/news/2020/12/removing-coordinated-inauthentic-behavior-france-russia/ Facebook published some examples of messages posted by French intelligence officers. In the same communique it also announced having discovered a more important Russian network aimed towards Libya, Syria, and Sudan.
International Communist Party
December, 31st 2020
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