Russian disinformation in Africa: What’s sticking and what’s not

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Unlike broader Russian narratives that exploit existing grievances of African audiences, most disinformation does not gain the same traction or attention on Twitter.

In part one, we examined tweets from users in or discussing Africa that contained various anti-West rhetoric and “whataboutism” that may or may not contain false information. We found that as the war in Ukraine persisted, anti-Western rhetoric decreased, whereas tweets employing ”whataboutism” increased.

Here we focus on topics that explicitly contain disinformation. The Kremlin continues to target African information spaces with disinformation and propaganda campaigns, spreading claims that seek to delegitimize not only Ukraine but also its allies. It is a guarantee that information “pollution” is present on social media, but how much of the conversation is dominated by these falsehoods?

We can gauge how thick of a fog disinformation casts by identifying how many tweets perpetuate various claims and compare them to those trying to counter the untruths. Users located in Africa or discussing Africa in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine generated over 3.5 million tweets from February 14 through August 14 (note on methodology available at the end of this blog). From these tweets, we isolate those that pertain to specific claims or topics.

The most discussed topic within this collection, generating over 190,000 tweets, pertains to food insecurity and the blockade of Ukrainian ports. Only 10 percent of these tweets blame Western sanctions for food insecurity in Africa—most users lay the blame on Russia. Figure 1 shows the daily percentage of tweets that blame Western sanctions versus those that actively try to correct the claim or blame Russia. Tweets blaming Western sanctions remain far below those stating that Russia is responsible, and never go above 5 percent of the daily generated tweets.

Figure 1. Daily percentage of tweets discussing food insecurity in Africa

The largest surge of tweets perpetuating this claim occurs on June 4, one day following Vladimir Putin’s meeting with African Union Chairperson and President of Senegal Macky Sall. The second surge of tweets blaming sanctions occurred the day Ukraine and Russia signed the grain deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. The surge continues to the end of July due to Sergei Lavrov’s tour of Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Republic of Congo. Since the grain deal was signed, most of the tweets perpetuating the claim quote Lavrov’s statements during the tour, including that the missile strikes on Odessa ports pose no obstacles for grain shipments.

Source: Brookings