How Israeli firm interfered with elections in Africa through social media

An Israeli political consulting group has been linked with hundreds of pages and social media accounts whose sole purpose was to interfere in elections in Africa. The Archimedes Group which is based in Tel Aviv created fake stories on behalf of political clients and made them go viral. Some of the accounts have since been deleted and the group banned from Facebook, according to the social media company’s head of cyber security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

It is not the first time that an Israeli company is accused of interference in the internal issues of other nations. The NSO tech company continued to draw criticism for creating the Pegasus software that enables governments to hack into mobile phones and spy on their citizens and foreigners.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year called on governments to put in more effort in assisting social media companies deal with fake news and control harmful content.

Gleicher said Facebook discovered “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” with accounts posing as certain political candidates, smearing opponents and presenting as local news organizations peddling supposedly leaked information.

The Archimedes Group spent USD 800,000 creating fake ads targeting sub-Saharan Africa. Their social media accounts amassed over 2.8 million followers and their videos hundreds of thousands of views since they started using social media in 2012. While Gleicher noted that they could not establish whether Archimedes’s motives were commercial or political, the lobbying group fronts itself as a political consultancy group that has powerful software and social media skills that can ‘change reality’. It also says it is involved in and has experience in presidential elections.

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Archimedes owned most of the banned dozens of Facebook groups, 65 accounts, 161 pages, and four Instagram accounts, all of which originated from Israel. The Group’s slogan on its website is “winning campaigns worldwide” and would “take every advantage available in order to change reality according to our client’s wishes.” The company’s CEO is Elinadav Heymann, a former intelligence officer for the Israeli Air Force and former adviser of Israel’s parliament.

Image credit: Institute for Security Studies ref Benin elections 2019

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