From the Washington Post news section:
This never-before-told tale reveals how covert online battles in the French-speaking Sahel region led to coups
By Elizabeth Dwoskin
Published October 21, 2023
When Israeli businessmen Royi Burstien and Lior Chorev touched down in the busy capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso [formerly Upper Volta], they had an urgent message for the country’s embattled ruler.
The Israelis—one a veteran political operative and the other a former army intelligence officer—had been hired with the mission of keeping the government of President Roch Marc Kaboré in power. Their company, Percepto International, was a pioneer in what’s known as the disinformation-for-hire business.
But, and follow me closely here, Percepto International is the trustworthy Good Guy source in this article.
They were skilled in deceptive tricks of social media, reeling people into an online world comprised of fake journalists, news outlets and everyday citizens whose posts were intended to bolster support for Kaboré’s government and undercut its critics.
Percepto International is a hilariously comic bookish Bad Guy name:
But as Percepto began to survey the online landscape across Burkina Faso and the surrounding French-speaking Sahel region of Africa in 2021, they quickly saw that the local political adversaries and Islamic extremists they had been hired to combat were not Kaboré’s biggest adversary. The real threat, they concluded, came from Russia, which was running what appeared to be a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing Burkina Faso and other democratically-elected governments on its borders.
The countries on the borders of Burkina Faso include Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ivory Coast. As Napoleon or Talleyrand or Bismarck or some guy like that said, he who rules the Western Sahel rules the world!
Pro-Russian fake news sites populated YouTube and pro-Russian groups abounded on Facebook. Local influencers used WhatsApp and Telegram groups to organize pro-Russian demonstrations and praise Russian President Vladimir Putin. Facebook fan pages even hailed the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary network run by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the late one-time Putin ally whose Internet Research Agency launched a disinformation campaign in the United States to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Prigozhin was the petty criminal turned jailbird turned restauranteur turned founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, who, after winning Russia’s biggest victory in Ukraine in 2023, Bakhmut, rebelled and drove toward Moscow, before calling off his coup, and then dying in an airplane crash.
My guess is that a large fraction of Russian disinformationists, like Prigozhin, are distant relatives of Israeli disinformationists, like Burstien and Chorev. One advantage of living in the San Fernando Valley in 2023 is that the concept that Russians and Israelis are categorically distinct seems pretty implausible.