In keeping with their spectacular reputation of violating privacy and rigging elections, Facebook has said that it removed "hundreds of accounts" from Facebook and Instagram that were used to influence elections in Africa, according to CNN. Only it wasn't Russia who was behind this latest intervention, but Israel.
Archimedes Group, an Israeli company, reportedly spent more than $800,000 in advertising (far more than the Kremlin allegedly spent on its "ad campaign" to crush Hillary Clinton and get Trump elected) and ran accounts that had nearly 3 million followers, for the purpose of targeting African elections. The group primarily targeted Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia.
For perspective, the $800,000 reportedly spent by the group compares to the $100,000 that has been claimed by the U.S. mainstream media to have been spent for ‘Russian bots’ used to allegedly sway the 2016 US presidential election, according to RT.
The company "used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement" and also "represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians," according to Facebook.
Facebook's Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy said: “The individuals behind this network attempted to conceal their identities.”
"This organization and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter," Facebook wrote in a blog post. It detailed the group's presence on the site by disclosing:
- Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts.
- Followers: About 2.8 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 5,500 accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 920 people followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
- Advertising: Around $812,000 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Brazilian reals, Israeli shekel, and US dollars. The first ad ran in December 2012 and the most recent ad ran in April 2019.
- Events: Nine events were hosted by these Pages. The first was scheduled for October 2017 and the most recent was scheduled for May 2019. Up to 2,900 people expressed interest in at least one of these events, and a portion of their accounts were previously identified and disabled as fake. We cannot confirm whether any of these events actually occurred.
Meanwhile, the website that reportedly links to Archimedes Group claims it "took significant roles in many political and public campaigns, among them Presidential elections and other social media projects all over the world."
"Archimedes has created and operates in it's [sic] own unique field within the social media realm."
RT notes that the firm has interesting similarities to a former Israeli social media manipulation firm:
Archimedes’ slogan is oddly reminiscent of another secretive Israeli social media manipulation firm, Psy-Group (motto: “Shape reality”), which closed its doors after coming under scrutiny during the Mueller investigation for its possible involvement in the election of Donald Trump. Psy-Group drew up a detailed prospectus for a Facebook meddling campaign seven months before the 2016 election, but supposedly never deployed it in real life. Both Psy-Group and Archimedes touted their ability to operate multiple fake online avatars simultaneously.
According to Facebook's blog, here is a sample of the content posted by some of these pages:
Airbus group is quoted in a judicial investigation for scam on a Malian gold mine in balance sheet deposit, whose shareholders have been ruined. The investment project of the aerospace giant in this mine, LED by a close to Malian power, seemed intended to clear occult funds to facilitate the obtaining of military markets in the country. This is a very embarrassing new business….
Incidentally, just a days ago we reported how another secretive Israeli company used WhatsApp voice calls to install spyware across countless phones. WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function. The malicious code, developed by the secretive NSO Group, a notorious and controversial Israeli hacking and surveillance tools vendor, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs.
It is unclear how many apps were infected with the spyware trojan, which could for example, allow anyone to get access to John Podesta's email password (and then blame say, Vladimir Putin for example) as WhatsApp is too early into its own investigations of the vulnerability to estimate how many phones were targeted using this method, although it is likely a substantial number.
Still, one should perhaps ask: is it Russia - already the usual suspect for any alleged rigging on the internet - that is the true culprit here, or Israel, which never makes mainstream media headlines, yet whose actions are far more flagrant, bold and manipulative.