Facebook has shut down the account of an Israeli consulting firm after being found to have circulated propaganda against former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar during the presidential elections.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that Archimedes was found to have initiated a high-tech propaganda that spread positive messages about President Muhammadu Buhari, while defacing Mr Abubakar’s campaign with misinformation.
Citing the report as first published by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the AP reported that one of the Archimedes-linked pages that Facebook cancelled appeared filled with viral misinformation attacking Mr Abubakar.
The page’s banner image showed Mr Abubakar as Darth Vader, the Star Wars villain, holding up a sign reading, “Make Nigeria Worse Again.”
Mr Abubakar’s official campaign slogan was ‘Get Nigeria Working Again’. It was launched in November, a day after presidential election campaign officially kicked off.
The AP also noted that a page with almost identical visuals, although significantly excluding the Darth Vader mask, purported to support Abubakar, with the slogan “Team Atiku For President.”
The report identified the page as a covert attempt to infiltrate Abubakar’s audience of potential voters and manipulate their views, gradually spamming them with antithetical content and diverting them to the “Make Nigeria Worse” page.
The report said Archimedes “lionised and boosted” Mr Buhari, with amateur videos eulogising the accomplishments of his presidency as though he were not locked in a tight battle for re-election.
The firm was also found to have targeted some supporters of Mr Abubakar online, infiltrating their groups and spamming them with unsolicited pro-Buhari propaganda.
It was found that, overall, the misleading accounts had reached some 2.8 million users, and Facebook estimated the pages had engaged over 5,000 followers.
The company was reported to have spent as much as $800,000 (roughly N288.4 million) on its deceptive content over years.
The 2019 general elections were marred by disinformation. Both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition PDP denied contributing to the proliferation of fake news across the country.
Although Archimedes was busted for spreading misinformation in Mr Buhari’s name, the AP report did not immediately find evidence of payment between the president’s campaign and the Israeli firm.
Festus Keyamo, a spokesperson for Mr Buhari campaign during the elections, said there was no payment to any firm for misinformation during election.
“No one Naira was paid to any foreign firm for anything,” Mr Keyamo told PREMIUM TIMES. “We have nothing to hide.”