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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

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

2 hours ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.