One Face, Many Names: An Investigation into Fake NGOs and Media Outlets Linked to Harouna Douamba on and off Facebook
A Facebook takedown exposes a network of NGO and media entities linked to Harouna Douamba.
On May 6, 2021, Facebook announced the takedown of 32 Pages, 46 Profiles, and six Instagram accounts operated by individuals in the Central African Republic (CAR) whose activities targeted audiences in CAR. Facebook shared this network with the Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) on April 26, 2021. This network was suspended not due to the content of its posts, but rather for coordinated inauthentic behavior. SIO found significant indications both on and off platform that many of the assets removed in this takedown were aliases for the same entity.
The suspended network exhibited strong ties to Harouna Douamba, a pseudonym for an allegedly Burkinabe individual who has gained notoriety in CAR for the information campaigns he wages on social media. Douamba claims to be the president of three non-governmental organizations (NGOs): Aimons Notre Afrique (ANA), Coalition Afrique Engagée (CAE), and Fédération Nationale des Ivoiriens d’Origine Étrangères (FENIOE). Facebook Pages for these organizations were included in the suspended network, in addition to Pages for several other NGOs and media companies with ties to Douamba. We also found some evidence that one of the suspended Profiles may be the individual behind the Harouna Douamba pseudonym. Facebook attributes the network to ANA.
Suspended Pages consistently disparaged France’s involvement with CAR, but praised President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and Russia. They also published slanted stories on other west and central African countries.
We also investigated Douamba’s connections to a disinformation campaign that claimed four officials associated with the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA) trafficked arms to rebels operating in a neighborhood in Bangui, the CAR capitol. One of the suspended Pages was deeply involved in this effort and posted what might qualify as incitements to violence.
The suspended network centered around the activities of Harouna Douamba. Nearly all of the suspended Pages have connections to Douamba and/or frequently published content featuring Douamba and the activities of his NGOs. Several of the suspended Profiles and Instagram accounts also appear to have direct ties to Douamba, his NGOs, or affiliated media companies.
Many of the suspended Pages claimed to be NGOs that seek to advance Pan-African causes. However, these NGOs largely appear to be thinly veiled aliases for Douamba’s ANA and CAE NGOs. Pages for these organizations demonstrated significant coordinated behavior. For instance, they frequently shared duplicated content from ANA and CAE, usually within 10 to 15 minutes of the original posts.
One of the suspended Pages was a coordinating force around a disinformation campaign in 2020 alleging that UN peacekeepers in CAR trafficked weapons to rebel groups and calling for revolt at the peacekeeping operation. This is strong evidence that Douamba is linked to that disinformation campaign.
Eighteen domains, largely French-language news sites covering central and west Africa, were linked to the network. There is substantial evidence that the sites are linked to each other and to Douamba. The ANA website, for instance, lists nearly all of the news sites as part of their media group, ANA-COM.
Topically, the network largely pushed content critical of France and supportive of the Touadéra regime and Russia. They also published slanted stories on other west and central African countries.
The network also attempted to build its audience across platforms. One post that was shared widely by suspended Pages called for Pan-Africanists to include their WhatsApp numbers in the comments. However, few users shared this information.