The network was operated by local nationals—some wittingly and some unwittingly—in Ghana and Nigeria, on behalf of individuals in Russia, and its content was targeted toward the U.S.
Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a Newsroom post that the people behind the network used fake accounts—some of which had already been disabled by the social network’s automated systems—to manage pages posing as non-governmental organizations or personal blogs, and to post in groups.
Gleicher added that they frequently posted about U.S. news and tried to boost engagement by focusing on topics including black history, black excellence, fashion, celebrity gossip, historical figures and LGTBQ issues.
Content also appeared on oppression and injustice, including police brutality.
Gleicher said Facebook found links to EBLA, an NGO in Ghana, and individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency.
Roughly 13,500 accounts followed one or more of the pages in the network, and approximately 265,000 people followed at least one of the Instagram accounts, with 65% of those in the U.S.
Less than $5 was spent on ads focused on U.S. users, and none of those was a political or issue ad, as Gleicher said, “Our systems repeatedly rejected attempts by this network to run issue or political ads in the U.S. because the people behind it were not authorized to run political ads in the U.S.”
In total, the social network identified some $379 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in U.S. dollars, and Gleicher added that the majority were run before the operation began by people who wittingly or unwittingly joined this network in the second half of 2019.
He also shared examples of content posted by pages in the network: