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Facebook’s latest account purge exposes Africa’s misinformation problem

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Facebook last week purged a network of hundreds of pages, groups and Instagram accounts it labeled as producing “coordinated inauthentic behavior” toward Africa.

The activity originated in Israel and was largely targeted toward Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, and Tunisia.

It was mostly political in nature and primarily paid for by Archemedes Group, a global political consulting firm, Facebook said.

This isn’t the first case of social media platforms used as vehicles for political manipulation in Africa. Cambridge Analytica, the controversial big-data actor employed in Brexit and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, was active on the continent before and after both events.

On its recent Africa related deletions, Facebook said:

The people behind this network used fake 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.

The activity took place over 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts.  There were 2.8 million accounts that followed one or more of these pages and 5,500 accounts joined at least one of these Groups.

Facebook said more than $800,000 was spent on ads associated with these accounts starting in December 2012 and running as recently as April this year.

Facebook declined to offer TechCrunch additional information on the account deletions beyond their release. But the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) has been digging deeper and released some initial findings in a Medium Post. In addition to connecting the accounts to activity in Ghana — a country not named in FB’s release — DFRL shed some light on fake news targeted at Nigeria’s February 2019 elections.

Examples included a “Make Nigeria Worse Again” trolling initiative aimed at the campaign of Atiku Abubakar, who was challenger to Nigeria’s incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari — who won a second-term.

DFRL also shared examples connected to the deleted Facebook accounts aimed at elections in Mali, Tunisia, Niger, Togo, Algeria, and Angola. It noted the ads related to this nexus of activity were paid for in U.S. dollars, Israeli Shekels, and Brazilian reals. “The spending in different currencies suggests how vast the operation was, encompassing multiple regions around the world,” said DFRL’s reporting.

Fake news on social media platforms has reared its head in Africa several times. Cambridge Analytica, backed by U.S. big-data billionaire Robert Mercer, was found to have been involved in elections in Kenya and Nigeria before its controversial role directing pro-Brexit and pro-Trump online activity in 2016. Facebook later banned Cambridge Analytica from its platform.

Social media driven fake news — primarily on Facebook and WhatsApp — became such an issue in Kenya’s 2017 elections the country’s parliament passed a bill in 2018, with specific punitive measures, to combat it. An investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 later revealed that Cambridge Analytica had advised the 2017 presidential campaign of Kenyan incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, who won in a disputed run-off vote.

Facebook has prioritized growth in Africa, particularly since Mark Zuckerberg visited the continent’s tech scene in 2016.

The U.S. social media company has grown Africa users to over 200 million and Facebook owned chat-tool, WhatsApp, is the most downloaded messenger app on the continent.

But Facebook’s recent Africa account purge shows when Facebook travels, so too does its list of pros and cons, including the ability of global actors to use it for nefarious uses in local settings.

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emergeafrica
154 days ago
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FutureLearn announces collaboration with Amity, Asia’s number one online education platform

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by Future Learn
Amity University Online and FutureLearn join forces to allow Indian professionals access to great learning to enhance their careers. Amity University Online, India, today announced a deal with FutureLearn, Europe’s leading social learning platform, to enable the online university to amplify its existing pool of professional courses. Through this formal collaboration with FutureLearn, Amity will be able to offer FutureLearn’s vast portfolio of flexible online courses to professionals, institutes and corporates.

https://www.fenews.co.uk/press-releases/29222-futurelearn-announces-collaboration-with-amity-asia-s-number-one-online-education-platform

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emergeafrica
154 days ago
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Makerspaces A to Z: Human Algorithm Design

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In Algorithms to Live By, the authors explore an interdisciplinary way of thinking called human algorithm design, which essentially means searching for better solutions to the challenges people encounter every day.

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emergeafrica
211 days ago
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Uganda: Online Mentoring Eases Teaching in Schools

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[Monitor] A total of 120 teachers from schools in Moyo and Adjumani districts have benefitted from a mentoring and online knowledge transfer, with support from the Finn Church Aid (FCA).
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emergeafrica
211 days ago
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Kenya: Peter Tabichi Crowned World's Best Teacher

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[Nation] A Kenyan science teacher has been crowned the best in the world after winning the 2019 Global Teacher Prize.
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emergeafrica
211 days ago
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Where did social media go wrong?

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For most of my life, the Internet, particularly its social media — BBSes, Usenet, LiveJournal, blogosphere, even MySpace, early Twitter and Facebook — consistently made people happier. But roughly 5 years ago it began to consistently make people more miserable. What changed?

I posted that question to Twitter a week ago, and the most notable response was the response that did not exist: not a single person disputed the premise of the question. Yes, Twitter responses are obviously selection bias incarnate — but looking at the opprobrium aimed at social media from all sides today, I’d think that if anything it understates the current collective wisdom. Which of course can often be disjoint from factual reality … but still important. So, again: what changed?

Some argued that new, bad users flooded the Internet then, a kind of ultimate Eternal September effect. I’m skeptical. Even five years ago Facebook was already ubiquitous in the West, and we were already constantly checking it on our smartphones. Others argue that it reflects happiness decreasing in society as a whole — but as far back as 2014? I remember that as, generally, a time of optimism, compared to today.

There was one really interesting response, from a stranger: “The nature of these social networks changed. They went from places where people debated to places where lonely people are trying to feel less lonely.” Relatedly, from a friend: “The algorithms were designed to make people spend more time on those sites. Interestingly, unhappy people spend more time on social sites. Is unhappiness the cause, or the result of algorithms surfacing content to make us unhappy?” That’s worth pondering.

Pretty much everyone else talked about money, basically buttressing the argument above. Modern social media algorithms drive engagement, because engagement drives advertising, and advertising drives profits, which are then used to hone the algorithms. It’s a perpetual motion engagement machine. Olden days social media, early Facebook and early Twitter, they had advertising, sure — but they didn’t have anything like today’s perpetual motion engagement.

Even that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that there’s apparently a whole other perpetual motion machine at work in parallel, too: engagement drives unhappiness which drives engagement which drive unhappiness, because the kind of content which drives the most engagement apparently also drives anxiety and outrage — cf Evan Williams’ notion that social media optimizes for car crashes — and arguably also, in the longer run, displace other activities which do bring happiness and fulfillment.

I don’t want to sound like some sort of blood-and-thunder Luddite preacher. There’s nothing automatically wrong with maintaining a thriving existence on Facebook and Twitter, especially if you carefully prune your feeds such that they are asshole-free zones with minimal dogpiling and pointless outrage. (Some outrage is important. But most isn’t.) Social media has done a lot of excellent things, and still brings a lot of happiness to very many people.

But also, and increasingly, a lot of misery. Does it currently bring us net happiness? Five years ago I think that question would have seemed ridiculous to most: the answer would generally have been a quick yes-of-course. Nowadays, most would stop and wonder, and many would answer with an even faster hell-no. Five years ago, people who worked at Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) were treated with respect and admiration by the rest of the tech industry. Nowadays, fairly or not, it’s something a lot more like disdain, and sometimes outright contempt.

The solution is obvious: change the algorithms. Which is to say: make less money. Ha.They could even remove the algorithms entirely, switch back to Strict Chronological, and still make money — Twitter was profitable before stock options before it switched to an algorithmic feed, and its ad offerings were way less sophisticated back then — but it’s not about making money, it’s about making the most money possible, and that means algorithmically curated, engagement-driven, misery-inducing feeds.

So: social media is increasingly making us miserable. There’s an obvious solution, but financial realpolitik means we can’t get to it from here. So either we just accept this spreading misery as a normal, inescapable, fundamental part of our lives now — or some broader, more drastic solution is required. It’s a quandary.

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emergeafrica
211 days ago
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