Detecting Authors of Coordinated Misinformation on Facebook and Twitter

By Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi

Participants, resource persons, staff of ICFJ and Code for Africa
Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi, a freelance investigative journalist and a fact-checker from Nigeria, shared some of her takeaways from the AAOSI workshop in Dakar, Senegal.

My experience during the three-day African Academy for Open Source Investigations (AAOSI) training in Senegal organised by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in partnership with Code for Africa offered me an opportunity to explore insightful content on conducting enhanced websites and social media investigations.

Undoubtedly, being a freelance investigative journalist and a fact-checker requires a certain level of curiosity and precision, which only comes by keeping abreast with the fast-changing tools and techniques in the space.

The perfect reflection of my quest for accuracy is that I fact-check my sources’ claims even when they are the victims in the context.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter are among the top-ranking social media platforms, and disinformation peddlers are taking advantage of these platforms’ popularity to share unverified information.

Unfortunately, unsuspecting users have fallen victim and lost their hard-earned money.

It is worth noting that a significant share of false information shared on social media is through coordinated behaviour.

Notably, most victims of misinformation usually cannot detect the puppet masters behind such campaigns.

A cross-section of participants during the training in Senegal

During the workshop, attended by 19 journalists from Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya and Ghana, the focus was on misinformation, disinformation and influence operations and how credible data can be misrepresented to incite and mislead the public.

In Nigeria, one notable trend is that when public officials are captured on video or audio, making controversial comments, they always claim the content was doctored.

Over the years, it has been challenging to verify the alleged doctored videos. Fortunately, the Code for Africa team shared techniques to fact-check doctored videos and audio.

But, among all, my major takehome from the several topics discussed is “How to detect authors of coordinated misinformation”. My passion for this topic is driven by the damage inflicted on unsuspecting social media users who fall for misinformation.

Elfredah Kevin-Alerechi, at the sideline of the training.

Detecting Authors Of Coordinated Misinformation/Disinformation Campaigns On Facebook

Peddlers of misinformation/disinformation campaigns on Facebook use various sophisticated techniques to mislead users.

For instance, a network of multiple burner accounts, fake groups or pages is created by bad actors who are sometimes paid to run these campaigns.

However, some overlooked red flags can suggest a Facebook group might be fake.

Below is a guideline on detecting background information of a Facebook group or page you suspect might be run by bad actors.

1. Visit Facebook and search for the name of the page you want to fact-check.

2. Under the ‘About’ section scroll to the transparency section.

Screengrab of About section of a group page (Source: Facebook)

3. Click ‘See all’ and then ‘Page transparency’ will pop up, indicating the date it was created.

Screengrab of Transparency section of a group page (Source: Facebook)

This section highlights the page’s name, the history, the number of administrators managing the page and their country of residence, whether the page is running or has ever run an advert and sometimes contact numbers. This information helps make an informed guess on whether the page is legitimate or not.

The trainers demonstrated an example of a purported Cote D’Ivoire news page on Facebook managed by people based in Cote D’Ivoire and Russia. The phone number displayed in the ‘About’ section of the page bore the Russian prefix (+7).

Screengrab of About section of a group page (Source: Facebook)

Detecting coordinated misinformation on Twitter

Investigating Twitter to detect authors of coordinated misinformation can be complicated and time-consuming.

However, various free and paid online tools like Meltwater can facilitate investigations and fact-checks on Twitter.

Meltwater allows fact-checkers to conduct advanced searches using Boolean queries with operations like “AND’, ‘OR’, “AND NOT” to generate insights that are extremely helpful for monitoring and analysing parameters such as mentions trends, sentiments, top keywords and total mentions.

Additionally, Twitonony also enables analysis of Twitter accounts and their activities, while Truthnest, can be used to provide comprehensive information about an account.

The tool analyses information like a user’s weekly activity, peak hours, recent tweets, recent replies, hashtags and posted images, among others.

As a fact-checker, these techniques and tools are extremely helpful since they create an avenue to investigate coordinated misinformation campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.

The tool’s come in handy, considering Nigeria is heading into an election.

This article was produced with mentorship from the African Academy for Open Source Investigations (AAOSI), to tackle disinformation that undermines our democracies, as part of an initiative by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Code for Africa (CfA).


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