Democracy
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The Law of Democracy, Legal Structure of the Political Process book cover

This book created the field of the law of democracy, offering a systematic account of the legal construction of American democracy. This edition represents a significant revision that reflects the embattled state of democracy in the U.S. and abroad. With the addition of Franita Tolson as well as Nathaniel Persily to the prior edition, the book now turns to a changed legal environment following the radical reconfiguration of the Voting Rights Act, the rise of social media and circumvention of the formal channels of campaign finance, and the increased fragmentation of political parties. Strikingly, in the current political environment the right to register and vote passes from being a largely historical inquiry to a source of front-burner legal challenge. This edition further streamlines the coverage of the Voting Rights Act, expands the scope of coverage of campaign finance and political corruption issues, and turns to the new dispute over voter access to the ballot. The section on election litigation and remedies has been expanded to address the expanded range of legal challenges to election results. For the first time, this book isolates the distinct problems of presidential elections, ranging from the conflict over federal and state law in Bush v. Gore, to the distinct challenges to the 2020 presidential elections, to the renewed focus on the Electoral Count Act.

The basic structure of the book continues to follow the historical development of the individual right to vote; current struggles over gerrymandering; the relationship of the state to political parties; the constitutional and policy issues surrounding campaign-finance reform; and the tension between majority rule and fair representation of minorities in democratic bodies.

For more information and additional teaching materials, visit the companion site.

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This book created the field of the law of democracy, offering a systematic account of the legal construction of American democracy. This edition represents a significant revision that reflects the embattled state of democracy in the U.S. and abroad.

Authors
Samuel Issacharoff
Pamela S. Karlan
Pamela S. Karlan
Nathaniel Persily
Franita Tolson
Book Publisher
Foundation Press
Number
6th Edition
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Come join The Journal of Online Trust & Safety, an open access journal for cutting-edge trust and safety scholarship, as we bring together authors published in our special issue, Uncommon yet Consequential Online Harms, for a webinar, hosted on September 1, 9:30-10:30am PT. 

The Journal of Online Trust & Safety publishes research from computer science, sociology, political science, law, and more. Journal articles have been covered in The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Platformer and cited in Senate testimony and a platform policy announcement.

Articles in this special issue will include: 

Election Fraud, YouTube, and Public Perception of the Legitimacy of President Biden by James Bisbee, Megan A. Brown, Angela Lai, Richard Bonneau, Joshua A. Tucker, and Jonathan Nagler

Predictors of Radical Intentions among Incels: A Survey of 54 Self-identified Incels by Sophia Moskalenko, Naama Kates, Juncal Fernández-Garayzábal González, and Mia Bloom

Procedural Justice and Self Governance on Twitter: Unpacking the Experience of Rule Breaking on Twitter by Matthew Katsaros, Tom Tyler, Jisu Kim, and Tracey Meares

Twitter’s Disputed Tags May Be Ineffective at Reducing Belief in Fake News and Only Reduce Intentions to Share Fake News Among Democrats and Independents by Jeffrey Lees, Abigail McCarter, and Dawn M. Sarno

To hear from the authors about their new research, please register for the webinar. To be notified about journal updates, please sign up for Stanford Internet Observatory announcements and follow @journalsafetech. Questions about the journal can be sent to trustandsafetyjournal@stanford.edu.

 

 

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Christopher Giles is a researcher and open-source investigator focusing on information operations, and monitoring conflict and human rights issues.

Prior to joining Stanford University in 2021, Christopher reported on disinformation for BBC News, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 U.S. election, where his reporting was “highly commended” by the Royal Statistical Society’s Journalism Awards. Christopher is a recipient of the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship and is pursing graduate studies in international policy and journalism.

Researcher, Stanford Internet Observatory
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abstract blue image with text Trust and Safety Research Conference

Join us September 29-30 for two days of cross-professional presentations and conversations designed to push forward research on trust and safety.

Hosted at Stanford University’s Frances. C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, the Trust and Safety Research Conference will convene trust and safety practitioners, people in government and civil society, and academics in fields like computer science, sociology, law, and political science to think deeply about trust and safety issues.

Your ticket gives you access to:

  • Two days of talks, panels, workshops, and breakouts
  • Networking opportunities, including happy hours on September 28, 29 and 30th.
  • Breakfast and lunch on September 29 and 30th.

Early bird tickets are $100 for attendees from academia and civil society and $500 for attendees from industry. Ticket prices go up August 1, 2022. Full refunds or substitutions will be honored until August 15, 2022. After August 15, 2022 no refunds will be allowed.

More information is available at: http://www.tsresearchconference.org

For questions, please contact us through internetobservatory@stanford.edu

Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center
326 Galvez Street
Stanford, CA 94305

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Melissa De Witte, Taylor Kubota, Ker Than
Taylor Kubota
Ker Than
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During a speech at Stanford University on Thursday, April 21, 2022, former U.S. President Barack Obama presented his audience with a stark choice: “Do we allow our democracy to wither, or do we make it better?”

Over the course of an hour-long address, Obama outlined the threat that disinformation online, including deepfake technology powered by AI, poses to democracy as well as ways he thought the problems might be addressed in the United States and abroad.

“This is an opportunity, it’s a chance that we should welcome for governments to take on a big important problem and prove that democracy and innovation can coexist,” Obama said.

Obama, who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017, was the keynote speaker at a one-day symposium, titled “Challenges to Democracy in the Digital Information Realm,” co-hosted by the Stanford Cyber Policy Center and the Obama Foundation on the Stanford campus on April 21.

The event brought together people working in technology, policy, and academia for panel discussions on topics ranging from the role of government in establishing online trust, the relationship between democracy and tech companies, and the threat of digital authoritarians.

Obama told a packed audience of more than 600 people in CEMEX auditorium – as well as more than 250,000 viewers tuning in online – that everyone is part of the solution to make democracy stronger in the digital age and that all of us – from technology companies and their employees to students and ordinary citizens – must work together to adapt old institutions and values to a new era of information. “If we do nothing, I’m convinced the trends that we’re seeing will get worse,” he said.

Introducing the former president was Michael McFaul, director at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and U.S. ambassador to Russia under Obama, and Stanford alum and Obama Foundation fellow, Tiana Epps-Johnson, BA ’08.

Epps-Johnson, who is the founder and executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, recalled her time answering calls to an election protection hotline during the 2006 midterm election. She said the experience taught her an important lesson, which was that “the overall health of our democracy, whether we have a voting process that is fair and trustworthy, is more important than any one election outcome.”

Stanford freshman Evan Jackson said afterward that Obama’s speech resonated with him. “I use social media a lot, every day, and I’m always seeing all the fake news that can be spread easily. And I do understand that when you have controversy attached to what you’re saying, it can reach larger crowds,” Jackson said. “So if we do find a way to better contain the controversy and the fake news, it can definitely help our democracy stay powerful for our nation.”

The Promise and Perils Technology Poses to Democracy


In his keynote, Obama reflected on how technology has transformed the way people create and consume media. Digital and social media companies have upended traditional media – from local newspapers to broadcast television, as well as the role these outlets played in society at large.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the American public tuned in to one of three major networks, and while media from those earlier eras had their own set of problems – such as excluding women and people of color – they did provide people with a shared culture, Obama said.

Moreover, these media institutions, with established journalistic best practices for accuracy and accountability, also provided people with similar information: “When it came to the news, at least, citizens across the political spectrum tended to operate using a shared set of facts – what they saw or what they heard from Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley.”

Fast forward to today, where everyone has access to individualized news feeds that are fed by algorithms that reward the loudest and angriest voices (and which technology companies profit from). “You have the sheer proliferation of content, and the splintering of information and audiences,” Obama observed. “That’s made democracy more complicated.”

Facts are competing with opinions, conspiracy theories, and fiction. “For more and more of us, search and social media platforms aren’t just our window into the internet. They serve as our primary source of news and information,” Obama said. “No one tells us that the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions, and subtle manipulations.”

The splintering of news sources has also made all of us more prone to what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” Obama said. “Inside our personal information bubbles, our assumptions, our blind spots, our prejudices aren’t challenged, they are reinforced and naturally, we’re more likely to react negatively to those consuming different facts and opinions – all of which deepens existing racial and religious and cultural divides.”

But the problem is not just that our brains can’t keep up with the growing amount of information online, Obama argued. “They’re also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet generally, and social media platforms in particular.”

The former president also made clear that he did not think technology was to blame for many of our social ills. Racism, sexism, and misogyny, all predate the internet, but technology has helped amplify them.

“Solving the disinformation problem won’t cure all that ails our democracies or tears at the fabric of our world, but it can help tamp down divisions and let us rebuild the trust and solidarity needed to make our democracy stronger,” Obama said.

He gave examples of how social media has fueled violence and extremism around the world. For example, leaders from countries such as Russia to China, Hungary, the Philippines, and Brazil have harnessed social media platforms to manipulate their populations. “Autocrats like Putin have used these platforms as a strategic weapon against democratic countries that they consider a threat,” Obama said.

He also called out emerging technologies such as AI for their potential to sow further discord online. “I’ve already seen demonstrations of deep fake technology that show what looks like me on a screen, saying stuff I did not say. It’s a strange experience people,” Obama said. “Without some standards, implications of this technology – for our elections, for our legal system, for our democracy, for rules of evidence, for our entire social order – are frightening and profound.”

‘Regulation Has to Be Part of the Answer’


Obama discussed potential solutions for addressing some of the problems he viewed as contributing to a backsliding of democracy in the second half of his talk.

In an apt metaphor for a speech delivered in Silicon Valley, Obama compared the U.S. Constitution to software for running society. It had “a really innovative design,” Obama said, but also significant bugs. “Slavery. You can discriminate against entire classes of people. Women couldn’t vote. Even white men without property couldn’t vote, couldn’t participate, weren’t part of ‘We the People.’”

The amendments to the Constitution were akin to software patches, the former president said, that allowed us to “continue to perfect our union.”

Similarly, governments and technology companies should be willing to introduce changes aimed at improving civil discourse online and reducing the amount of disinformation on the internet, Obama said.

“The internet is a tool. Social media is a tool. At the end of the day, tools don’t control us. We control them. And we can remake them. It’s up to each of us to decide what we value and then use the tools we’ve been given to advance those values,” he said.

The former president put forth various solutions for combating online disinformation, including regulation, which many tech companies fiercely oppose.

“Here in the United States, we have a long history of regulating new technologies in the name of public safety, from cars and airplanes to prescription drugs to appliances,” Obama said. “And while companies initially always complain that the rules are going to stifle innovation and destroy the industry, the truth is that a good regulatory environment usually ends up spurring innovation, because it raises the bar on safety and quality. And it turns out that innovation can meet that higher bar.”

In particular, Obama urged policymakers to rethink Section 230, enacted as part of the United States Communications Decency Act in 1996, which ​​stipulates that generally, online platforms cannot be held liable for content that other people post on their website.

But technology has changed dramatically over the past two decades since Section 230 was enacted, Obama said. “These platforms are not like the old phone company.”

He added: “In some cases, industry standards may replace or substitute for regulation, but regulation has to be part of the answer.”

Obama also urged technology companies to be more transparent in how they operate and “at minimum” should share with researchers and regulators how some of their products and services are designed so there is some accountability.

The responsibility also lies with ordinary citizens, the former president said. “We have to take it upon ourselves to become better consumers of news – looking at sources, thinking before we share, and teaching our kids to become critical thinkers who know how to evaluate sources and separate opinion from fact.”

Obama warned that if the U.S. does not act on these issues, it risks being eclipsed in this arena by other countries. “As the world’s leading democracy, we have to set a better example. We should be able to lead on these discussions internationally, not [be] in the rear. Right now, Europe is forging ahead with some of the most sweeping legislation in years to regulate the abuses that are seen in big tech companies,” Obama said. “Their approach may not be exactly right for the United States, but it points to the need for us to coordinate with other democracies. We need to find our voice in this global conversation.”

 

Transcript of President Obama's Keynote

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Full-Spectrum Pro-Kremlin Online Propaganda about Ukraine

Narratives from overt propaganda, unattributed Telegram channels, and inauthentic social media accounts
Full-Spectrum Pro-Kremlin Online Propaganda about Ukraine
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At a conference hosted by the Cyber Policy Center and Obama Foundation, former U.S. President Barack Obama delivered the keynote address about how information is created and consumed, and the threat that disinformation poses to democracy.

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Visiting Scholar, Global Digital Policy Incubator
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Charles served as an elected member of the Legislative Council in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, representing the Information Technology functional constituency, for two terms from 2012 to 2020. He served alternatively as chair and vice chair of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Panel from 2016 to 2020. As a lawmaker, Charles was a champion for policies and legislations on privacy, open data, freedom of expression and information, cybersecurity, innovation, fintech, electronic health records, as well as human rights and democracy. After leaving the legislature, he founded Tech for Good Asia, a regional initiative in Asia bringing together businesses and civil societies to harness the positive powers of digital technologies. Before entering the legislature, He co-founded HKNet in 1994, one of the earliest Internet service providers in Asia and Hong Kong. He was the founding chair of the Internet Society Hong Kong, honorary president and former president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, former chair of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, former chair of the Asian, Australiasian and Pacific Islands Regional At-Large Organization (APRALO) of ICANN, and a founding member of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor. Charles began his career in technology with Digital Equipment Corporation, and then Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the U.S. He holds a BS in Computer and Electrical Engineering and an MS in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University.

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Encina Hall

Stanford University

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APARC Predoctoral Fellow, 2021-2022
Stanford Internet Observatory Postdoctoral Fellow, 2022-2023
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Tongtong Zhang joins the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC) as APARC Predoctoral Fellow for the 2021-2022 academic year. She is a Ph.D candidate at the department of Political Science at Stanford University. Her research focuses on authoritarian deliberation and responsiveness in China.

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Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East Agenda (1 of 2)

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Digital Activism and Authoritarian Adaptation in the Middle East Agenda (2 of 2)

Panel 1: Digital Activism

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 9-10:30 am PT

Opening Remarks: Marc Lynch, Eileen Donahoe, and Larry Diamond

Moderator: Hesham Sallam

  • Wafa Ben-Hassine: “The Hyper-Aware and Not-So-Aware: What's Next for the MENA Region's Activists and Society at Large Vis-a-Vis the Internet?”
  • Adel Iskander: “Re(Membering) Culture and Heritage: Egypt's Latest Political Turf War”
  • Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld: “Civilian Behavior on Social Media During Civil War”
  • Joshua Tucker: “Beyond Liberation Technology? The Recent Uses of Social Media by Pro-Democracy Activists”

 

Panel 2: Authoritarian Abuses of Internet Technologies

Thursday, May 27, 2021 | 9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Marc Lynch

  • Marwa Fatafta: “Transnational or Cross-Border Digital Repression in the MENA Region”
  • Andrew Leber: “Social Media Manipulation in the MENA: Inauthenticity, Inequality, and Insecurity” (Co-authored paper with Alexei Abrahams)
  • Marc Owen Jones: “Tracking Adversaries: The Evolution of Manipulation Tactics on Gulf Twitter”
  • Xiao Qiang: “Chinese Digital Authoritarianism and Its Global Impact”

 

Panel 3: Government Reshaping of Norms and Practices to Constrain Online Activity

Tuesday, June 1, 2021 | 9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Eileen Donahoe

  • Ahmed Shaheed: “Binary Threat: How State Cyber Policy and Practice Undermines Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa Region”
  • Mona Elswah, Mahsa Alimardani: "The Hurdles Involved in Content Moderation in the MENA Region"
  • Mohamed Najem: “The Role of the Gulf in Governing Digital Space in the Arab Region”
  • James Shires: “The Techno-Regulation of Critical Communications Infrastructures and Their Political Potential in the Gulf”
  • Alexei Abrahams: “The Web (In)Security of Middle Eastern Civil Society and Media”

 

Panel 4: Cross-Border Information Operations

Thursday, June 3, 2021 | 9-10:30 am PT

Moderator: Larry Diamond

  • Alexandra Siegel: “Official Foreign Influence Operations: Transnational State Media in the Arab Online Sphere”
  • Hamit Akin Unver: “Russian Disinformation Operations in Turkey: 2015-2020”
  • Shelby Grossman and Renee DiResta: “In-House vs. Outsourced Trolls: How Digital Mercenaries Shape State Influence Strategies”
  • Nathaniel Gleicher: “Covert Manipulation, Overt Influence, Direct Exploit: Understanding and Countering Influence Operations in the Middle East and Beyond”
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Jack Cable
Zoe Huczok
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En octobre 2020 se tiendra en Guinée une élection présidentielle cruciale, qui déterminera si le Président Alpha Condé poursuivra son mandat pour une nouvelle décennie, ou si le pays connaîtra le premier changement de régime démocratique de son histoire. L’élection a aussi d’importantes implications économiques pour les investisseurs étrangers en Guinée.

Dans les mois précédant l’élection, nous avons identifié un réseau de 94 Pages Facebook qui relaient, de manière coordonnée, des publications favorables à Condé et à son parti. Ces Pages, qui comptent au total plus de 800 000 abonnés, publient des textes et des images pro-Condé, et promeuvent des vidéos qui proviennent de médias affiliés au gouvernement. Un faisceau d’indices – des événements relatés dans la presse, des pratiques de publication spécifiques, d’autres éléments encore – permet d’établir un lien entre ces Pages et le parti de Condé, le Rassemblement du Peuple Guinéen (RPG). Plus spécifiquement, il établit un lien avec son équipe de “volontaires communicants” (“Volcom” en abrégé), en réalité salariés du RPG. Les administrateurs des Pages du réseau dissimulent leurs véritables identités sous de faux noms comme « Alpha le Démocrate ». Les Pages ne révèlent pas les relations formelles, voire salariées, de leurs auteurs avec le RPG. 

Nous avons partagé une version de cet article, ainsi que les données associées, avec Facebook. Facebook a estimé que les Pages et comptes de ce réseau ne constituent pas une « action inauthentique concertée », et le réseau n’a pas été suspendu. Bien que les activités que nous avons découvertes ne suffisent pas à justifier une action répressive de la part de Facebook, comme la suppression des comptes, ou l’étiquetage des Pages, il nous semble que ces activités ne favorisent pas une vie politique transparente ou des élections équitables. Le cas de la Guinée soulève des questions plus larges : où et comment faire la distinction entre une campagne électorale moderne et des « actions inauthentiques concertées » ?

Contexte

Alpha Condé est le premier président démocratiquement élu en Guinée et a servi deux mandats de cinq ans depuis sa prise de pouvoir en 2010. En mars 2020, il a tenu un référendum pour approuver une nouvelle constitution qui prévoit, entre autres changements, de fixer de nouvelles limites pour les mandats présidentiels. Sous cette nouvelle Constitution, Condé pourrait demeurer au pouvoir pour douze ans supplémentaires. Des manifestants sont descendus dans la rue dans les mois menant au référendum, parfois réprimés par la force. Ils ont également échangé leurs points de vue sur Facebook, le principal réseau social de Guinée, qui compte deux millions de comptes pour environ treize millions d’habitants. Le parti au pouvoir et l’opposition utilisent tous deux Facebook comme la principale plateforme de diffusion de leur communication politique. Cela fait de Facebook un forum clé pour influencer les électeurs et créer l'illusion de soutiens spontanés.

Le réseau des Volcom du RPG

Le réseau de Pages du RPG n’est ni petit, ni discret. Nous avons identifié deux des principales Pages de ce réseau, parce qu’elles sont parmi les seules à placer des publicités politiques en Guinée (comme cela est consigné dans la bibliothèque de publicités de Facebook, la Facebook Ad Library). Il nous est vite apparu évident que des dizaines d’autres Pages et Groupes interagissent avec ces Pages, de façon coordonnée : des publications et des images identiques, diffusées par des comptes qui présentent souvent la même photo de profil.

Publication vantant les barrages hydroélectriques construits par Condé.
Image 1 : Publication vantant les barrages hydroélectriques construits par Condé.

La plupart du contenu de ces Pages fait l’éloge de la politique et du caractère du président Alpha Condé dans un style journalistique soutenu, avec une syntaxe et un vocabulaire sophistiqués. Certaines publications font référence à des faits précis, émaillés de chiffres et d’autres éléments de preuve. Par exemple, une publication du groupe « Guinéens, ouvrez les yeux » (également retrouvée sur six autres Pages du réseau) célèbre la construction de barrages hydroélectriques par le président Condé, dont un barrage controversé financé par la Chine (Image 1).

Au cours de notre enquête dans ce réseau visiblement organisé, nous avons trouvé des articles de presse sur les individus régulièrement identifiés dans les publications du réseau. L’attention des médias de focalise sur les « Volontaires Communicants » (ou « Volcom ») un groupe de communicants politiques employés et salariés par le RPG pour promouvoir Condé et sa politique.   De nombreux membres des Volcom parlent librement de leurs activités. Par exemple, Korbonya Balde se présente sur son compte Facebook comme travaillant pour la « Cellule de Communication du RPG Arc-en-Ciel ». Balde a été arrêté en 2018 pour incitation à la haine raciale et à la violence envers les opposants politiques du RPG sur les réseaux sociaux. En février, les Volcom ont entamé une grève pour dénoncer leurs conditions de travail – un événement qui, d’après nos sources guinéennes, a suscité une attention considérable parmi l’élite guinéenne. 

La couverture médiatique de la grève des Volcom a mis en exergue une partie de leurs soutiens au sein du gouvernement guinéen, suggérant que Albert Damantang Camara, Ministre de la Sécurité et la Protection Civile, Hadja Aissatou Béla Diallo, ministre conseillère chargée de mission auprès du président, Madina Thiam (la fille de Diallo) et Souleimane Keita, un membre influent du parti et conseiller présidentiel, financent collectivement les Volcom. 

Bien que l’organigramme des Volcom ne soit pas public, au moins deux de leurs membres semblent avoir une influence notable au sein du groupe. Ibrahima Kallo est désigné par d’autres utilisateurs Facebook et plusieurs médias comme « le chef des Volcom ». Il a récemment été nommé comme attaché auprès de Diakara Koulibaly, Ministre des Hydrocarbures. Sa présence sur les réseaux sociaux (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat) est prolifique. Il semble aussi avoir un accès privilégié à Condé, comme plusieurs images et liens d’identification (tags) l’attestent. Charles Kolie, mieux connu sous son alias Facebook « Continuité Continuité » semble également avoir un rôle de coordinateur au sein de Volcom. Une biographie publiée sur Facebook affirme que Kolie a rempli plusieurs fonctions au sein du RPG jusqu’en 2007, et qu’il est coordinateur national de Volcom depuis 2018.

Sur la base de ces éléments, nous avons élaboré des critères pour établir des liens entre les Pages pro-Condé que nous avons découvertes et les Volcom. Nous attribuons une Page aux Volcom avec un haut niveau de certitude si elle satisfait au moins deux de ces critères :

  • Les Volcoms sont mentionnés explicitement, dans des publications ou dans les informations de la Page. Cela passe souvent par l’usage de mots-dièse comme #Volcom_rpg_AEC ou #Volcoms.

  • Des membres de Volcom sont identifiés dans des publications de la Page, ou des publications de membres des Volcom sont reprises sur la Page, ou les publications de la Page sont régulièrement reprises par des membres des Volcom.

  • Au moins une publication (texte ou image) a été recopiée directement depuis une autre Page. Dans au moins un sous-ensemble de Pages, nous avons remarqué que les heures de publication et le contenu étaient très largement coordonnés.

  • Des similitudes dans les métadonnées des Pages, notamment la date de création de la page, la date de mise à jour des photos de profil, l’adresse email ou téléphonique de contact, ou encore la localisation de l’administrateur.

Exemples de Pages du réseau Volcom.
Image 2 : Exemples de Pages du réseau Volcom.

Nous avons identifié 94 Pages que nous attribuons avec un haut niveau de certitude au réseau Volcom. La plupart des Pages du réseau ont été créées à la fin de 2019 ou au début de 2020, et vingt-cinq d’entre elles ont été créées le 27 mars 2020. La plupart des Pages ont entre plusieurs centaines et plusieurs milliers d’abonnés, et quatorze en ont au moins 10 000 (voir les exemples de deux pages dans l’Image 1). La plus importante (« Le coin des guinéens ») a plus de 352 000 abonnés, ce qui pourrait suggérer que presqu’un utilisateur Facebook guinéen sur cinq est abonné à cette Page. Aucune des Pages ne déclare que son contenu émane d’employés du parti RPG ou du gouvernement. Par exemple, dans sa section « A propos », la Page « Guinéens, Ouvrez les Yeux » déclare seulement être « une page créée par des analystes dans le but de dénoncer, critiquer et apporter des solutions sur les différentes mutations de la Guinée ».

Exemple de publications identiques dont la diffusion est coordonnée.
Image 3 : Exemple de publications identiques dont la diffusion est coordonnée.

Le réseau présente des formes de coordination, y compris la répétition de publications parfaitement identiques à travers plusieurs Pages. Par exemple, la publication en Image 3, qui critique le Front National pour la Défense de la Constitution (FNDC), une coalition de partis d’opposition guinéens, a été publiée presque simultanément le 31 mai sur au moins trois Pages Facebook : à 9h58 sur « Le Forum Républicain », à 10h00 sur « Guinéens, Changeons de Mentalité » et sur « Allons au référendum dans la paix et la concorde ». Plus tard ce même jour, la même publication est apparue sur deux autres Pages du réseau, « Le coin des guinéens » et « Pr Alpha Condé Pour Tous ». 

Activité de publication, Ensemble 1. En surligné, la période de 3 semaines au cours de laquelle la coordination est la plus marquée.
Image 4 : Activité de publication, Ensemble 1. En surligné, la période de 3 semaines au cours de laquelle la coordination est la plus marquée.

Une telle activité de publication coordonnée est fréquente parmi les Pages du réseau. Nous avons identifié deux ensembles de Pages au sein du réseau qui présentent des activités de publication hautement coordonnées. L’ensemble 1 (Image 4) comprend 15 Pages qui publient régulièrement le même contenu approximativement à la même heure. Ces Pages ont 185 000 abonnés au total, ce qui représente 23 pourcents des abonnés du réseau général. Dix de ces Pages ont un seul administrateur, localisé en Turquie, ce qui pourrait suggérer qu’un même individu ou entreprise pourrait être impliqué dans la gestion de ces Pages. Par ailleurs, sept autres Pages ont également un administrateur en Turquie, ce qui porte le total à dix-sept Pages dans le réseau. Bien que d’autres Pages au sein du réseau aient des administrateurs dans des pays étrangers, comme les Etats-Unis, la France, le Maroc, l’Espagne et l’Inde, le nombre de Pages administrées depuis la Turquie est bien plus important.

Ensemble 2, Activité de publication coordonnée.
Image 5 : Ensemble 2, Activité de publication coordonnée.

L’ensemble 2 (Image 5) comprend 14 plus petites Pages avec 2896 abonnés au total. Toutes les Pages de cet ensemble ont été créées les 26 et 27 mars 2020. A juger par leur faible nombre d’abonnés et d’interactions, nous faisons l’hypothèse que les Pages de cet ensemble sont encore en train de construire leur audience, ou qu’elles servent à grossir les statistiques d’interaction d’autres Pages. Leurs activités de publication sont gérées de manière parallèle, ce qui suggère que des techniques d’automatisation sont utilisées pour gérer ces Pages. 

Outre leurs activités de publication coordonnées, ces Pages ont tendance à partager les publications de deux médias vidéo liés au RPG : Alpha Condé TV et 224Minutes (à noter, la Page de 224Minutes a été retirée de Facebook en septembre 2020, peu avant la publication de cet article). La presse guinéenne attribue la direction d’Alpha Condé TV à Madina Thiam, également marraine des Volcom. 224Minutes a précédemment été épinglé par les plateformes de réseaux sociaux pour des violations de leurs conditions d’utilisation : son premier compte Twitter a été suspendu, et Facebook bloque tous les liens extérieurs vers 224minutes.net, affichant le message suivant : « Le lien auquel vous avez tenté d'accéder est contraire à nos Standards de la Communauté ». Sur les Pages Facebook d’Alpha Condé TV et 224Minutes, plusieurs publications présentent un nombre de partages particulièrement élevé au regard de leurs mentions « j’aime », ce qui est suspect. Une publication récente d’Alpha Condé TV, par exemple, a seulement 96 mentions « j’aime » et 67 commentaires mais a été partagée 4000 fois dans les 16 heures.

Exemples de comptes utilisant Condé ou Poutine comme photos de profil.
Image 6 : Exemples de comptes utilisant Condé ou Poutine comme photos de profil.

Les Pages des Volcom sont largement diffusées grâce à un réseau de comptes Facebook géré par les communicants du RPG. La plupart des utilisateurs qui « aiment », commentent ou partagent les Pages du réseau publient presqu’exclusivement du contenu sur Condé sur leurs propres profils personnels. Plusieurs d’entre eux ont les mêmes portraits de Vladimir Poutine ou de Condé comme photos de profil et de couverture (Image 6, Alpha Mon Choix et Politologue Traoré). Certains de ces comptes se présentent comme employés par le RPG Arc-en-Ciel, le parti de Condé.

Exemple d'utilisateur partageant une même publication Volcom dans plusieurs groupes.
Image 7 : Exemple d'utilisateur partageant une même publication Volcom dans plusieurs groupes.

Ces utilisateurs partagent des contenus issus des Pages du réseau sur leurs propres journaux ou sur des Groupes : les comptes individuels partagent souvent la même publication de nombreuses fois (Image 7). Ils relaient ces publications dans des Groupes neutres, ou même d’opposition, qui ne sont pas contrôlés par Volcom, touchant ainsi un plus grand nombre de Guinéens. Bien que ces utilisateurs se livrent à des activités de publication coordonnées et que plusieurs utilisent clairement de faux noms, il ne s’agit pas nécessairement d’identités complètement fictives. Ainsi, les photos de ces comptes semblent bien être d’une seule et même personne, engagée dans diverses activités, souvent politiques. De plus, nous n’interprétons pas la prolifération de photos de Poutine comme un signe d’interférence russe. Ce phénomène semble plutôt motivé par le parallèle entre Condé et Poutine, qui a également légitimé un changement à la constitution de son pays pour demeurer au pouvoir. En utilisant l’image de Poutine, les soutiens de Condé évoquent les deux décennies de Poutine en Russie comme un modèle de la stabilité et de la continuité auxquelles ils aspirent pour la Guinée.

Des liens avec l'étranger: la Turquie

Publications favorables à Albayrak, issues de Pages du réseau Volcom.
Image 8 : Publications favorables à Albayrak, issues de Pages du réseau Volcom.

Etant donné le nombre important de pages gérées par des administrateurs turcs (ou basés en Turquie), nous avons analysé les comportements de publication sur les sujets d’intérêt pour la Turquie. Le réseau des Volcom (y compris les Pages sans administrateur turc) a publié plusieurs articles au sujet d’un conglomérat turc étroitement lié à Condé : le groupe Albayrak, présidé par Ahmet Calik, allié proche d’Erdogan, et précédemment dirigé par Berat Albayrak, gendre d’Erdogan. Les publications mentionnent Albayrak en termes positifs, célébrant les dons d’Albayrak à la Guinée durant la crise du Covid-19 (avec une vidéo du groupe Albayrak) et la mise en place d’un service de collecte de déchets à Conakry (Image 8).

Photo de Condé et Calik, publiée par un membre éminent des Volcom
Image 9 : Photo de Condé et Calik, publiée par un membre éminent des Volcom.

En outre, les membres des Volcom rapportent certaines réunions au sommet entre les dirigeants d’Albayrak et l’administration Condé, comme l’illustre cette photo de Condé en discussion avec Ahmet Calik le 30 octobre 2019, postée par Ibrahima Kallo sur Twitter (Image 9). Dans la publication sont identifiés deux ministres du gouvernement Condé, deux membres de Volcom, et le président-directeur général du Fonds d’Entretien Routier. Cette même année, Albayrak a remporté un contrat pour prolonger un segment de route vers le Port Autonome de Conakry.

L'avion privé de Condé (numéro de série TC-VTN), prêté par Erdogan.
Image 10 : L'avion privé de Condé (numéro de série TC-VTN), un prêt d'Erdogan.

Les présidents Erdogan et Condé ont également de très bonnes relations personnelles. Erdogan fut l’un des rares dirigeants internationaux à exprimer son soutien à Condé en envoyant des félicitations officielles après le référendum de mars 2010. Erdogan a également prêté un avion privé à Condé, que Condé utilise à présent comme son avion officiel (Image 11). Un suivi de l’activité récente de l’avion révèle au moins quatre aller-retours entre la Guinée et la Turquie dans la seule seconde moitié de 2019.

Cependant, quoique quelques indices semblent désigner un lien entre les contenus des Volcom et les intérêts officiels de la Turquie, nous n’avons pas pu déterminer l’identité de l’administrateur turc des Pages des Volcom, ni trouver des preuves directes d’une implication turque dans ce réseau.

L'influence des Volcom sur la politique guinéenne

Nous avons contacté plusieurs journalistes et guinéens politiquement engagés pour comprendre dans quelle mesure les Pages des Volcom influencent la politique guinéenne, et combien il était plausible qu’elles convainquent les électeurs à l’orée de l’élection présidentielle d’octobre, ou d’exacerber les tensions entre groupes ethniques en Guinée. De nombreuses sources guinéennes ont confirmé que Volcom est financé par le parti du président et que les principaux partis d’opposition en Guinée utilisent aussi des réseaux sociaux et diffusent de la désinformation ou de la mésinformation. Par exemple, d’après certaines de nos sources, l’opposition aurait prétendu qu’Alpha Condé était traité pour le Covid-19 à l’étranger, ce qui s’est avéré faux. Cependant, bien que nous ayons trouvé des Pages soutenant l’opposition guinéenne avec des dizaines ou des centaines d’abonnés, aucune ne présentait un système de publication coordonné. Nos sources affirment que la désinformation en ligne (aussi appelée « intoxication » en Guinée) est un élément si crucial du jeu politique qu’aucun parti ne peut se permettre de s’en abstraire.

La propagande politique et la désinformation en Guinée sont loin d’être inoffensives. Nos sources ont déploré l’illettrisme digital en Guinée, qui rend la population très susceptible à la propagande sur internet. « C’est un immense problème en Guinée. Tout ce que les gens voient sur Facebook, ils s’imaginent que c’est la réalité. Il y a aussi beaucoup plus de fausses informations et de fausses actualités en Guinée. » Plusieurs de nos contacts ont exprimé la crainte qu’en nourrissant l’antagonisme entre partis, la désinformation n’accentue les tensions entre les groupes ethniques Peuls et Mandinka. Une série d’articles de presse sur les Volcom se focalise sur une affaire de 2018, dans laquelle des communicants du RPG et de l’UFDG ont été arrêtés pour incitation à la violence.

Que faire pour limiter la propagande digitale en Guinée ?

Nos contacts en Guinée sont sceptiques quant à l’efficacité d’une nouvelle régulation contre la désinformation. Comme une personne l’a évoqué, «Notre Constitution mentionne la cybercriminalité et prévoit des sanctions ; mais la mise en application, comme dans tous les domaines, pêche. » Ils ont souvent cité le besoin d’impliquer plus activement la société civile : « Il nous faut une société civile très dynamique et ouverte. Si aucun organisme indépendant ne contrôle l’action gouvernementale, la société civile doit garantir la transparence. » D’autres ont mis en exergue l’importance de formations en communication digitale pour le public.

Cependant, la construction d’une société civile robuste, ou l’amélioration de l’éducation en matière digitale, prendront du temps. Alors que la Guinée se prépare pour une élection décisive, le parti au pouvoir a déjà construit l’infrastructure Facebook nécessaire pour mener des campagnes de propagande grande ampleur en faveur d’un troisième mandat du Président Condé. Nous voyons cette opération comme un cas d’espèce d’une campagne politique qui – intentionnellement ou non – met au jour des zones grises dans les politiques de Facebook. Facebook juge que ce réseau ne remplit pas les critères d’une « action inauthentique concertée », mais nous croyons que le manque de transparence du réseau sur ses affiliations avec le parti au pouvoir est incompatible avec l’idéal démocratique d’une campagne électorale. 

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Nous avons enquêté sur un large réseau de pages Facebook opérées par le parti du président guinéen Alpha Condé. Les Pages orchestrent des publications qui soutiennent la candidature de Condé à un troisième mandat, et sont gérées sous des noms d'emprunt.

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Stanford Internet Observatory
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This is the second of a series of pieces we intend to publish on societies and elections at risk from online disinformation. This election monitoring project is somewhat unique: the elections in Libya may not actually happen. We choose to focus on Libya as regional actors are largely unconstrained in their ability to meddle in the country; it is an important test case to see how far malign influence operations can extend.

Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has proposed scheduling presidential elections for the end of 2019, though it is unlikely this will happen. Over the coming months the Stanford Internet Observatory will track disinformation in Libya, observing activities of myriad regional actors with both a stake in how Libyan politics unfold and a track record of running overseas social media influence operations.

Political context

Libya has seen continuing violence for several years, with rebel General Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, controlling large swaths of the country and aiming to take control of Tripoli.

Libya became independent in 1952. Muammar Gaddafi took power in 1969 and ruled until 2011. His rule was characterized by oppression, patronage, and violence, and Gaddafi consolidated control with networks of informants and a climate of fear. In the 1990s international sanctions against the regime (for supporting terrorism) weakened Gaddafi’s patronage machine. In 2011, at the start of the Arab Spring, the Libyan people began to protest the Gaddafi regime. The government was brutal in its response, which caused further and more intense protests. With support from Qatar, the UAE, and France, rebel groups began seizing territory. In the fall of 2011, with NATO support and a US-backed no-fly zone, rebels killed Gaddafi and seized control of the government. A National Transitional Council, which included former government officials who had defected in early 2011, academics, human rights activists, and tribal leaders, took power. The Council transitioned power to an elected General National Congress in 2012.

The GNC lost legitimacy in the years that followed, primarily for failing to provide security to citizens. In response, new parliamentary elections were held in 2014 for the House of Representatives, but the results were contested. This institution’s lack of legitimacy contributed to the outbreak of militia violence later in 2014, and the Libyan government split between the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and executive leadership in Tripoli. Strongman Haftar and his House of Representatives-aligned LNA forces built support in the East. The GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj maintained control in Tripoli. The most salient points of conflict between the two sides are over oil revenue and control of the Central Bank. The Central Bank is split in two, with the GNA controlling the Tripoli branch and oil revenues, and the LNA controlling an eastern branch. If the GNA were to cut off the LNA from banks, this could precipitate a national financial crisis.

There was an attempt at a peace deal in 2015; the Libyan Political Agreement, as it was known, created a Government of National Accord (GNA) but this deal never secured buy-in from the House of Representatives. In April 2019, after a series of successes in other parts of the country, Haftar began an offensive on Tripoli, bombing a migrant detention center in the process. This caused an outcry from the international community. He took some territory, but it was subsequently reclaimed by the GNA In June 2019.  

The international response to the conflict has been weak because of U.S. indifference, and disagreement among European countries about who to support. Though the US officially supports the GNA, President Trump spoke by phone with Haftar in April 2019 and praised his desire to fight terrorism.

US ambivalence has emboldened regional governments to interfere. The conflict has evolved into a proxy war, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt on the side of Haftar’s forces, challenging Qatar and Turkey’s support for the GNA; the GNA has incorporated elements of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both the GNA and LNA conduct drone strikes, using weapons supplied by Turkey and the UAE respectively, despite an arms embargo that has been in place since 2011.

As of October 2019 the war is at a stalemate, with neither the GNA nor the LNA open to negotiations, though Haftar recently signalled a willingness to open a dialogue. There are ongoing conflicts on the outskirts of Tripoli and in Misrata, Jufra, and Murzuq. Observers suggest that the soonest the elections could take place is early 2020, and only then if the UN can bring all factions to the negotiating table.

Potential disinformation threats

The ongoing conflict has made its way to online spaces, where all sides are spreading disinformation. This information battle is playing out primarily on Facebook and Twitter, and includes repurposing photos and videos to create false stories. For example, the Libyan affiliate of Al-Aan, an Arabic news network based in the UAE (the UAE is pro-Haftar) shared 2011 video footage of military movements, claiming they were recent. When the LNA captured a Portuguese mercenary supporting the GNA, an inauthentic Facebook account claiming to be a popular TV station pushed the untrue narrative that the mercenary was only conducting migrant smuggling surveillance for Europe. This false story went viral in Libya, and was amplified by a Saudi news network, and then The Daily Mail

There is compelling evidence of foreign-initiated pro-Haftar social media campaigns. In the weeks preceding Haftar’s effort to take Tripoli, there was a coordinated pro-Haftar Twitter campaign, complete with hashtags such as #SecuringTheCapital (in English and Arabic) that were amplified by bots, some of which participated in pro-UAE and anti-Qatar online campaigns in the past. On the day of the attack on Tripoli, another pro-Haftar campaign emerged with the Arabic hashtag “We support the Arab Libyan army” (#ندعم_الجيش_العربي_الليبي).  The top users of the hashtag were Twitter accounts in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. One account that used this hashtag had organized online campaigns for the Egyptian government in the past. Egyptian and UAE media coverage amplified the hashtag.  

There is speculation that Russia has acted to support the LNA in both the military and digital realms. However, given the uncertainty over which side will consolidate control, Russia has ongoing dialogue with the GNA, and is also considering supporting Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son and a possible presidential candidate. In 2018 Haftar traveled to Moscow and met with Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads both Wagner Group, a private military company with ties to the Kremlin, as well as the Internet Research Agency, the entity involved in numerous global influence operations. Some reports suggest Wagner Group has provided mercenaries and arms to the LNA. In May 2019 Russian citizens Maxim Shugaley, Samer Khasan, and Ali Sueyfan were arrested in Tripoli, accused of attempting to meddle in the upcoming elections. They had been in Libya with Alexander Prokofiev (who escaped arrest), meeting with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. All three worked for the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, a Russian NGO headed by Aleksandr Malkevich, who is on the US Treasury sanctions list for spreading divisive and untrue stories on social media in the run up to the 2016 US elections. 

Findings from newly-released Twitter data

Further evidence of UAE and Egyptian ties to Libya comes from files Twitter recently released of removed accounts. Two files – one that Twitter says contains accounts originating in the UAE, and the other with accounts based in the UAE and Egypt that were managed by a company called DotDev – each contain Tweets that are supportive of Haftar, critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, and claim Qatar (and to a lesser extent Turkey) are supporting terrorism in Libya. The tweets were primarily in Arabic and English.

The first file, with accounts based in the UAE, contains 1,325,530 tweets. 2,503 of these (0.2%) contain the word Libya in English or Arabic, and 711 of the 4,248 accounts (17%) tweeted at least once about Libya. 96% of user accounts were created between 2018 and 2019, and the average account had 215 followers. The accounts claimed to be based primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Image
A histogram of tweets from the UAE (black) and DotDev (green) files that contain the word Libya in English or Arabic.
 
A histogram of tweets from the UAE (black) and DotDev (green) files that contain the word Libya in English or Arabic. 

The references to Libya begin in 2012, including one that praised the (translated) “secular liberal coalition” for gaining more votes than a party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya’s parliamentary elections. A small flurry of pro-Haftar Tweets appeared on February 14 and May 20, 2014, days in the vicinity of two Haftar coup attempts. A few of these used the hashtag #الجيش_الليبي_يحارب_الإرهاب (the Libyan Army fights terrorism). In the years that followed, the accounts mercilessly attacked Qatar, claiming Qatar supported terrorism in Libya. “Who would want to loot the capabilities of the Libyan state, overthrow institutions and stealing oil expect [sic] Qatar?” one Tweet said. Tweets also praised the UAE; the hashtag #Libya_UAE appeared 43 times in the file, accompanying statements about UAE’s contributions to security and humanitarian relief in the country. Many tweets retweeted content from @alain_4u, the handle associated with Al-ain.com, a UAE-based media outlet.

A meme an account shared that emphasized the importance of fighting terrorism in (among elsewhere) Libya, while claiming that Qatar is not committed to fighting terrorism.
A meme an account shared that emphasized the importance of fighting terrorism in (among elsewhere) Libya, while claiming that Qatar is not committed to fighting terrorism.

Days after Haftar attempted to seize Tripoli, accounts retweeted a news headline saying the LNA was trying to liberate Tripoli, using the hashtag DFRLab researched earlier this year: “We support the Arab Libyan army” in Arabic.

Among the accounts Tweeting about Libya, we identified two likely fake online personas. Sara Bitar (@SaraBiitar) and Bilal Hamdan (@BilalHamda). They both claimed to be based in Lebanon and had about 5,500 followers. The accounts were created one day apart on September 2017, and had the same profile photo: a Lebanese woman at a protest, which appears to have been stolen from a 2012 news article. Sara claimed to be a “Political activist with a master degree in political and economics sciences.” We were unable to find any other online presence for either Sara or Bilal. The personas shared the standard narratives about Qatar and Turkey working against the interests of the Libyan people, and retweeted @qatarileaks, an account removed in the next file we discuss.

The second file – the one attributed to DotDev, contained 214,898 tweets between 2014 and 2019. 5,671 (3%) contained the word Libya, and 176 of the 271 accounts tweeted at least once about Libya.  

"The Libyan Army launches the second phase of Operation Flood of Dignity" reads this image tweeted by @binlibyaa, and retweeted by many accounts in the data in 2019.
"The Libyan Army launches the second phase of Operation Flood of Dignity" reads this image tweeted by @binlibyaa, and retweeted by many accounts in the data in 2019. 

These tweets had a near-identical tenor to the previous file, extolling the virtues of the UAE and asserting that Qatar is tearing Libya apart. One tweet in September 2017 said: “In order to avoid competing with #Libyan oil, #Qatar conspired to kill #Gaddafi and steal the #oil #QatariLeaks #boycott Qatar”. (We discuss Qatari Leaks below.) In February 2019 tweets alluded to possible Haftar movements: “Infighting Plagues #Qatar’s Arms [sic] in #Libya  #Qatar’s militias in Libya are about to be eradicated, victories of Haftar’s national army put them in a corner #Qatarileaks”. In March 2019, one tweet claimed Qatar’s militias were nearing “total collapse.” Tweets the day after Haftar’s Tripoli offensive said things like: “#Qatar and #Turkey United against Tripoli freedom The #Libyan National Army launched a final blow to terrorism in Tripoli, Seeks to purge the country from the abomination of the Muslim Brotherhood. #Qatarileaks”. A few days later a tweet stated that “Liberating #Tripoli provokes union of terrorism.”

Accounts in this file frequently retweeted @LyOffSpokesman. The account, now suspended, appears to have been a fake account for the LNA spokesman. A different account for the spokesman had denounced it as fake, showing a screenshot with @LyOffSpokesman claiming to be the spokesman's "official account." @LyOffSpokesman was likely a handle managed by DotDev. An account in the data appears with the same April 2010 account creation date (one of the earliest created accounts in the file), and a profile descirption that says it is the (translated) "news account" – perhaps a phrase added in after being called out on Twitter – "for the lieutenant Ahmad Al Mismari, the official spokesperson for the general leadership of the Libyan armed forces."

This image was tweeted by several users, including on May 23, 2019, just weeks after Haftar’s Tripoli offensive.
This image was tweeted by several users, including on May 23, 2019, just weeks after Haftar’s Tripoli offensive.

One of the suspended accounts claims to have been “The Official page of General Khalifa Haftar.” It was created in 2015, and had 2,896 followers. Though the handle is anonymized, engagement with the now-suspended @HaftarOfficial appeared only in May 2019, the only month that the account tweeted in the data, suggesting that may have been the suspended account. The account tweeted official-sounding statements about, for example, being well received in a meeting with the Egyptian President. Tweets from this account received on average 305 likes and 139 retweets. One tweet received 1,323 likes.

One account removed in this file was @qatarileaks, with 70,168 followers. Qatarileaks claims to be a platform to analyze information exposing Qatari support for terrorism; in practice it is simply an anti-Qatar propaganda machine. This account was among the most commonly re-tweeted accounts in both files. In the context of Libya alone, the #qatarileaks hashtag was used 352 times in the DotDev file. With tweets like “Qatar's foolish policies have contributed to the downfall of Libya, but that was the plan all along #Qatarileaks”, (from the first file) this handle linked to qatarileaks.com, a site with almost comically negative stories about Qatar. One story headlined “Death haunts passengers on Qatar Airways” contains no information about any death associated with Qatar Airways. The administrators for the affiliated Facebook Page are located in Egypt, and its Instagram account posts memes (including about Libya) that were shared frequently in the Twitter file. 

A screenshot of Qatarileaks.com/en, as seen on September 24, 2019.
A screenshot of Qatarileaks.com/en, as seen on September 24, 2019. 

 

The about page of Qatarileaks.com.
The about page of Qatarileaks.com.

@binlibyaa is likely another account Twitter removed in the DotDev takedown. While the screen name is hashed, the profile url linked to bnlibya.com. This account tweeted from March to May 2019, and replies to @binlibyaa covered the same time period. @binlibyaa frequently re-tweeted @LyOffSpokesman and @HaftarOfficial, along with links to bnlibya.com articles. That url was registered on April 6, 2019, two days after the start of Haftar’s Libya offensive. The account’s associated Facebook and Instagram accounts are down, and another Twitter account with a similar handle, @bnlibyaa, is suspended.

Alliances and interested parties

Non-aligned interfering party:

  • Italy, with a populist right-wing government, is taking a hard line on migrants from Libya. Italy has economic interests in Tripoli and Libya’s south, and a rivalry with anti-populist French President Emmanuel Macron. France is fighting terrorism and smuggling in southern Libya.

Media environment

After the fall of Gaddafi, print, television, radio, and online media outlets flourished as a result of new press freedoms. Many of these outlets are based abroad, with information about their financial backers hard to discern. Many also have strong political slants. Militias frequently compel reporters to publish stories that push their narratives. The BBC has an overview of the slants of the main newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and news agencies/sites. 

Facebook is the most popular social media platform for both civilians and militias in Libya.

Competing factions use Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the most popular social media platforms, to promote their agendas. Estimates for Facebook usage range from 53% to 60% to 65% of the population. In addition, 29% use YouTube and 8% use Twitter. Instagram usage estimates range from less than 1% to 14%. Overall, 58% of the population uses the open internet.

Narrative context

Organized social media campaigns push the following narratives:

  1. Claim the opposing side committed war crimes (all)
  2. Suggest that Haftar is a force for stability and security for Libya and will fight terrorism (pro-Haftar)
  3. Highlight the role of the other side’s foreign backers (all)
  4. Emphasize successes in securing or taking territory (all)
  5. The UN is failing in its goals for Libya (pro-Haftar)

Hashtags that have likely been part of coordinated inauthentic social media campaigns:

  • #SecuringTheCapital / #تأمين العاصمة (pro-Haftar, context here)
  • #PeopleOfLibyaWantTheLibyanArmyToSecureTheCapital (pro-Haftar, context here)
  • #ندعم_الجيش_العربي_الليبي (We support the Arab Libyan army) (pro-Haftar, context here)
  • #WeAreReady (pro-Haftar)

Key takeaways and risks

Libya is a complex case: it’s a country at war, with two competing governments, and seemingly extensive foreign engagement in both the conflict theatre and the media environment. Domestic groups involved in the conflict intentionally share false and misleading content on social media platforms. Evidence suggests foreign disinformation efforts have supported the LNA as well. These efforts will likely increase when elections are scheduled, as domestic groups and foreign backers jockey for power in the new government. The Internet Observatory intends to follow campaigning around Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections as they develop.

Challenges to studying disinformation in Libya

  • Minimal impartial investigative reporting in Libya makes assessing the validity of narratives difficult.  
  • Discerning media outlet bias is not always straightforward, further complicating the verification process.

For further reading 

Disinformation assessments

News coverage

Research

 Regional voices

 

We thank Katie Jonsson, Khadeja Ramali, and Lydia Sizer for helpful feedback on this document.

 

 

 

 
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