Presidential elections occur everywhere in Africa at the end of this year. And for some years now, election means huge misinformation campaigns and power games on social networks. Facebook is getting ready, but the task seems daunting.
Gone are the days when the Arab Spring presented Facebook and social networks as new tools serving democracy. Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro’s election in the US and Brasil highlighted the global system’s vulnerabilities, the power of fake news, and foreign countries’ possibility to influence the vote. And it will not spare Africa, especially when the continent is hosting a lot of presidential elections: Burkina Faso, Centrafrique, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, and Tanzania! So Facebook tries to find solutions against those issues, but hard to control the 206 million Facebook African users counted by MediaNet in 2018, a number which is undoubtedly more prominent now.
In May, pages followed by 3,8 million people closed for “foreign interference”
In May of this year, Facebook announced that it had closed 446 pages, 182 accounts, 96 groups, 60 events, and 209 Instagram account, held by a Tunisian company that, according to Facebook, aimed to influence the elections of French-speaking African countries with fake news. A strong action” for violating our policy against foreign interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity,” Facebook explained. The plan consisted of getting from a “non-political” account, talking about tourism, diaspora, or coronavirus, to “a political content” overnight. And all of this pretending to be “a local independent media.” 3,8 million people were following at least one of this page. A figure reached in a few months, hence Facebook’s choice to close them.
The fact-checking with numerous African media
The second important line for Facebook is, of course, the fake news. First, because they are easy to create and spread, something Facebook can’t really control, but also because the algorithm tends to spotlight those contents, and worst, to propose more of this kind of content to people who share it. According to a study run by PSB Research, 37% of Africans considered that fake news strongly impacted their capacity to stay informed. A figure that rise to 77% in Ethiopia and 52% in Zimbabwe. If Facebook can delete content calling for acts of violence or presenting false information about vote quickly, some other publications need some work to be disentangled. Against that, fact-checking will be the solution, with the help of numerous media in Africa: Dubawa, Africa Check, Pesa Check, AFP, Congo Check, or France 24. In any event, the network proves its power every day to influence crowds. Also, to mobilize them, and postelectoral contestations, expected in numerous countries, will probably once again prove it.
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