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Facebook Campaigners Skirt Rules in Guinea Vote, Study Says

Pauline Bax and Loni Prinsloo
·2 mins read

(Bloomberg) --

Guinea’s ruling party is running a coordinated propaganda network on Facebook Inc. ahead of October elections that’s inconsistent with transparent campaigning, Stanford University said in a report Monday.

Researchers found 94 pages “clearly” tied to the ruling party, but failing to disclose that they’re being paid to post text and images in support of President Alpha Conde. Many of the administrators hide their identities by using names, such as “Guineas, Open Your Eyes” or false names, such as “Alpha the Democrat,” according to the report. Conde is seeking a third term in the Oct. 18 vote.

After investigating, Facebook said it won’t suspend the pages because they are operated by real people with real identities. The company is working on tools to help people better understand who’s behind the pages they follow, a spokeswoman said by email. In the U.S., the platform has introduced a tab called “Organizations That Manage This Page” to help avoid a “misleading experience,” and the company will look closer at bringing the tab to additional countries, she said in response to queries.

The ruling party is still busy organizing its campaign but has a dedicated social-media team that’s active on various platforms and not just Facebook, according to one of its spokesmen, Alhousseiny Makanera Kake.

Read More: Facebook Needs Trump Even More Than Trump Needs Facebook

The pro-Conde pages, most of which were created late 2019 or on a single day in March 2020, have a combined following of some 800,000 people. In the U.S. the social media platform has added political advertising transparency and controls, and worked to remove and disclose coordinated campaigns. However, the Guinean propaganda network exposes “gray areas in Facebook’s policies,” the Stanford study said.

While rival platform Twitter Inc. has chosen to ban political ads, and Google has limited their reach, Facebook has stuck to its policy of allowing users to choose to limit ads, or search its ad database that compiles who is paying for which campaign.

“We believe this network is pushing up against the boundaries of acceptable behavior on Facebook,” Shelby Grossman, a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said in an interview. “If you are being paid by political candidates to post media that supports those candidates, you should be transparent of who you are and who you are affiliated with.”

(Updates with ruling party comment in fourth paragraph)

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