The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, was the target of some Facebook accounts operated by Archimedes Group, an Israeli political consulting and lobbying firm, during the campaign for the 2019 presidential election.
Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, announced at a press conference on Thursday, May 16, 2019 that the social media giant removed a total of 265 accounts, pages, groups and events involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior which aimed to influence elections in Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Gleicher disclosed that some of the suspected activity was linked to Tel-Aviv-based Archimedes as its network was discovered to have used affected accounts to run pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement.
They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians.
"The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents," Gleicher said.
Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher [YouTube/USENIX Enigma Conference] Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher [YouTube/USENIX Enigma Conference]
According to a report by United States think tank, Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, an analysis of the affected accounts revealed that many of them focused on the February 2019 Nigerian elections.
In the February 23 presidential election, the incumbent, President Muhammad Buhari, was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), winning 15,191,847 votes to Atiku's 11,262,978. Atiku has filed a petition before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal to contest the result, and hearings commenced this week.
DFRLab noted that the affected accounts appeared to have launched a sustained campaign against Atiku's candidacy while rooting for Buhari to win a second term.
"Make Nigeria Worse Again", one of the deleted pages, had a banner image of Atiku depicted as Darth Vader, a notorious fictional villain in the Star Wars movie franchise. The page's name is also a mischievous play on Atiku's campaign slogan to "Get Nigeria Working Again".
DFRLab also discovered another page named "Imagine a Nigeria without Buhari" which eulogised the president's first term achievements and also attacked the record of Atiku's PDP when it controlled the Federal Government for 16 years.
This is not Nigeria's first involvement with a foreign interference incident around its elections as it emerged last year that an unnamed Nigerian billionaire paid £2 million to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, to influence the 2015 presidential election in favour of then-president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Cambridge Analytica employees were flown to Nigeria and Israeli hackers were hired to break into then-opponent Buhari's emails to exhume his financial and medical records.
The Cambridge Analytica team was lodged in a hotel in Abuja a few weeks to the presidential election and worked on a communications campaign for Jonathan who is reported to have been unaware of the plot.
The Israeli intelligence operatives who worked with Cambridge Analytica during this period claimed that France and Israel wanted Jonathan to win the presidential election.
Cambridge Analytica hacked Facebook to harvest the profile of millions of users and target what was determined to be their worst fears.
In a video the firm produced, people were filmed being dismembered, having their throats cut and bled to death, and also burned to death in a bid to portray Muslims as violent and Buhari as the man that would impose Sharia Law that'll make that sort of violence commonplace in the country.
"It was voter suppression of the most crude and basic kind. It was targeted at Buhari voters in Buhari regions to basically scare the shit out of them and stop them from voting," a former Cambridge Analytica employee who worked on the campaign said.