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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios


A new Russian disinformation campaign targeting Americans on social media operated through satellite outfits in Ghana and Nigeria, according to new reports from CNN and Graphika, in collaboration with Facebook and professors at Clemson University.

Why it matters: Russian efforts to meddle in this year's U.S. elections are evolving in an attempt to avoid detection. In 2016, most state-backed misinformation campaigns went through St. Petersburg. Now, the Kremlin is changing course.

Details: According to the report, hundreds of accounts run by Ghanaian trolls created posts in English aimed at sowing division among U.S. citizens.

  • The Ghanaian fraudsters, mostly in their 20s, were instructed to time the posts for optimal U.S. hours. Many of their posts, like Russian operations in 2016, focused on driving division among the races, as well as LGTBQ issues and police brutality.
  • The trolls communicated via the encrypted app Telegram, which CNN notes isn't normally used in Ghana.
  • The operation's headquarters were in a compound near the Ghanaian capital, Accra. It was rented by a small nonprofit group that called itself Eliminating Barriers for the Liberation of Africa (EBLA). Facebook's intelligence suggests that EBLA was run by a Ghanian man living in Russia in conjunction with the Kremlin.

Between the lines: Facebook and Twitter were already looking into some of the troll accounts when CNN notified the two companies of its investigation.

  • The probe found that the group had extended its activities to Nigeria, and was beginning to try to advertise positions in the U.S. CNN found online job postings for misinformation shops in Nigeria and even Charleston, South Carolina.

By the numbers: More than 200 accounts were created by the Ghanaian trolls — the vast majority in the second half of 2019, per CNN.

  • Facebook said in a statement Thursday it had removed 49 accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts. It said thousands of U.S.-based accounts followed the Ghanian fraudsters' accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Twitter said it had removed 71 accounts that had 68,000 followers.

The big picture: The report speaks to a growing trend of bad actors relying on vulnerable populations in Africa to deploy misinformation campaigns. In October, Facebook said it took down Russian misinformation campaigns that were targeting people in eight African countries.

  • CNN found last summer that Russia had begun to develop an influence operation in the Central African Republic.

Go deeper: 2020 misinformation threats extend beyond Russia

Go deeper

Trump voices support for Saturday's pro-Capitol riots rally

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Former President Trump on Thursday expressed solidarity with people facing prosecution in connection to the Capitol insurrection.

Why it matters: The statement was issued ahead of Saturday's rally to protest the treatment of Capitol rioters. Over 600 known federal defendants face charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Clinton-linked lawyer indicted in investigation of FBI's Russia probe

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

A grand jury has returned an indictment against Michael Sussmann, a lawyer whose firm represented the 2016 Clinton campaign, for lying to the FBI about not representing "any client" when he presented them with allegations about a secret Trump Organization back-channel to a Russian bank.

Why it matters: It's the second criminal charge stemming from special counsel John Durham's review of possible misconduct by the intelligence community and prosecutors who investigated the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

Federal judge blocks Biden administration's use of Title 42 policy

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a public health order that fast-tracked deportations of migrant families at the southern border.

Why it matters: President Biden has faced significant backlash for retaining the Trump-era policy, which was implemented as a COVID containment measure. The expulsions deny adult migrants and families the chance for asylum.