The genocide that never was and the rise of fake news in Côte d’Ivoire
From anonymous avatars to foreign PR companies, the spread of fake news has become an inescapable part of the political landscape.
The small town of M’batto in south-central Côte d’Ivoire knows the dangers of fake news better than most. One day in November 2020, residents there awoke to news that they were at the epicentre of world-changing events. The nation had held a contentious presidential election just days earlier, and now social media was awash with stories of massacres in M’batto. Some said the violence was on the scale of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
This news had knock-on effects. Prominent opposition politicians like former prime minister Guillaume Soro called for the world to take note. Meanwhile, the gruesome stories almost certainly contributed to ethnic violence elsewhere in Côte d’Ivoire in which more than 50 people were killed.
There was a kernel of truth to the M’batto news. Members of the Agni ethnic community there had burned shops and vehicles belonging to Malinke people, the ethnic group to which the newly re-elected President Alassane Ouattara belongs. The violence was indeed worrying, leading to six deaths and forty injuries. However, it was far from genocidal.
The story of M’batto underscores the growing prevalence of fake news in Côte d’Ivoire. As explored in a recent report produced with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), misinformation and disinformation played an influential role in the presidential elections.
Most of it was instigated by members of political parties, including both those in President Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) and those affiliated with opposition figures such as former presidents Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo. All Côte d’Ivoire’s main political parties now have teams specialising in digital reputations and used cyber activists to promote their parties and policies around the elections.
“Fake news is a political weapon in Côte d’Ivoire,” said one of the Ivoirian journalists interviewed for the CDD report. “It is very, very, very politicised…Around the elections, everyone was using fake news to destabilise their opponents.”
As the case of M’batto showed, this misinformation can have far-reaching consequences.
“Fake information was everywhere and was spread in the hope of making people scared,” said a female Ivoirian citizen interviewed for the CDD report. “We all went back to our villages because we were too scared to go and vote because of the fear of attack or violence. It definitely pushed a lot of people not to vote.”
Highly politicised fake news is, of course, not unique to Côte d’Ivoire. However, its prevalence is particularly worrying in a country that has struggled to foster reconciliation since it emerged from a nine-year civil war in 2011. That conflict saw the southern-led government fight groups traditionally hailing from the north, such as the Malinke and Senoufo ethnic groups, that complained of marginalisation and exclusion. After years of low-level war, the country held long-delayed elections in 2010 that saw Ouattara, a northerner, defeat then President Gbagbo. The incumbent’s refusal to step down prompted months of heavy fighting that only ended in April 2011 when pro-Ouattara forces, supported by French troops, removed Gbagbo.
Over a decade later, feelings of exclusion among different parts of society remain prominent. Much of the fake news in 2020 claimed to show how one ethnic group is being unfairly targeted at the expense of another.
“There is a strong possibility that fake news is caused by the post-conflict political context,” said an Ivorian voter interviewed in the report. “Among every level of society, people use fake news to find and destroy the image of others. They use fake news to try to control the situation and advance their own interests.”
How did fake news become so prevalent?
Although rumours have long travelled through word of mouth in Côte d’Ivoire, the explosion of social media and internet accessibility has boosted their spread. Between January 2020 and January 2021, the number of internet users in the country increased by 2.5% and active social media users by 20.4%.
This growth has, in turn, contributed to the expanding range of fake news actors. This includes the rise of online “avatars”, one of the more unique features of the Ivoirian ecosystem. Many of these anonymous social media accounts have huge followings and have been responsible for the spread of false information.
The most famous avatar goes by the name “Chris Yapi” and has around 600,000 followers on its main Facebook account. It is generally believed to be connected to opposition figure Guillaume Soro and shares a range of content. Some of it is seemingly insider information on government activities, which lends credibility to the account and boosts its following. But some of its output is more clearly fake and seems designed to stir up political tensions.
Following the death of Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko in March 2021, for instance, Chris Yapi propagated the idea that President Ouattara’s brother, Téné Birahima, had killed him with poison. In the absence of public information about the 56-year-old’s passing, this rumour spread widely. Although there was no substance to it, a diplomatic communications specialist said this misinformation made it difficult for Birahima to do his new job as defence minister given the ill-feeling towards him among many Ivoirians.
Another example of a well-known avatar is “Succès”. In May 2021, this account spread a video on Facebook purporting to show horrific attacks against Ivoirian migrants in Niger. The clip was actually from Nigeria and had nothing to do with Ivoirians or Nigeriens. Yet it spread widely and incited retaliatory violence against Nigeriens in Côte d’Ivoire, leaving at least one person dead.
It is unclear who is behind some of these avatars, but sometimes, the politicians behind accounts that spread fake news are well-known. In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, for example, opposition leader Bédié engaged the Tunisian PR company UReputation to boost his party’s following. The firm set up Facebook groups that appeared harmless and attracted a wide audience as they shared information related to tourism, the diaspora, and the fight against Covid-19. But the groups then quickly changed tone and spread political propaganda, reaching an estimated 4 million internet users before Facebook shut them down.
What is the response?
As internet access continues to expand and social media accounts multiply, cracking down on fake news in Côte d’Ivoire is likely to prove incredibly challenging.
This is further complicated by the fact that the government has allegedly used the pretext of fake news to target opponents in the past. In February 2017, for example, security forces arrested six journalists, including three media owners, for reportedly spreading false information. The government claimed that reports of a mutiny published by those arrested were intended to incite a revolt in the armed forces. It is not clear whether the government was correct in its assertions, but the fact that officials typically pursue these kinds of cases in the fight against misinformation has led to concerns that the crackdown on fake news is politicised.
Another challenge stems from the sensationalist nature of much fake news. It will always be difficult for fact-checking organisations to match the fast spread and sharing appeal of this content. After-the fact efforts to counter fake news are likely to find it difficult to make much of a difference. Instead, attempts to improve information education and help people better understand when stories are real or fake would be a much more productive method of preventing fake news from escalating. Attempts by the government to communicate more clearly, quickly, and truthfully would also go a long way to prevent fake news causing as much damage as it did in the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.
I am writing you after reading your writing above.
1. Fake news is what nato used, what has been used to hide the truth about Abydos in Liberia with fake USA revisionism as Liberia being slave state, compared to its masks and their wisdom of Tor as legacies of the Kings and Queens called Abydos whom the Ivorians are also made of for which we are dealing with things many don’t under in regards to the arts of the pyramids and people of west Africa being confused and manipulated by fake leadership as democracies and politics.
“After years of low-level war, the country held long-delayed elections in 2010 that saw Ouattara, a northerner, defeat then President Gbagbo. The incumbent’s refusal to step down prompted months of heavy fighting that only ended in April 2011 when pro-Ouattara forces, supported by French troops, removed Gbagbo.” Jessica…
This above note extracted from your piece is by itself fake news and you’re either a victim of the madness by nato coup detat and fake news for public opinions and support to keep the elephant and akans as extensions of the kru or Gods of the pyramids and sea. Gbagbo was never defeated. Fake news was he refused to let go of power, he committed genocide, he raped and robbed the Ivorians still mad at ado and nato which makes reconciliation impossible until ado leaves for good.
I was in Abidjan last in 2019, before that, it was 2004. I saw Gbagbo rise to power and spent years thru the wars, and I myself took an ax to demolished my first house built as a 15 years old in tabou where I served as VP for the accompanied minors refugees at save the children under unhcr before elected president in Abidjan in Biabou to serve last time as refugees voice of the voiceless.
Fake news is lying Gbagbo was defeated. Ivorians were defeated, not Gbagbo, Africans at large were set back a 100 years for continuous colonization. Make no error, I have seen my share of the truth both from home and while away like I knew the truth about the fate of Liberia where 29 were murdered in a religious rituals which happens every 100 hundred years as a symbolic expression of the Gods of wisdom who made the art of the Nile possible but are kept ignorant by fake puppets running Monrovia for the outside.
To assume Gbagbo was beaten is to not know exactly what is going on. Remember, if your education is from West then it’s only repetitive nonsense about what is going on in Africa. I saw war come and go, and kept my smile and hunger for truth to understand what we are dealing with, ignoring the useless lies sold to many like yourself as information to eat up and spit out when talking about these things. Gbagbo won, France couldn’t accept it, nato wouldn’t accept it after getting rid of Taylor to sell the used, pay themselves for genocide marginalized in Liberty (Yalla) same they did to Cote D’Ivoire. Blamed Taylor, blamed Gbagbo, reward imf Ellen Cia war lapdog, and ado to secure western interests and then spead up how best to steal all of Africa after claiming the arts of the Nile and pretending we are not connected to the arts of Abydos who live under the ceiba tree of the gods of wisdom of the pyramids. If you’re an honest writer, I could share pictures with you to show what is really happening. I pay my share because I stay neutral and can’t be played or fooled because what it’s all about even greedy ado and Ellen and those fools who play for nato don’t know. I do. With eyes of a falcon, and golden. Heart of peace s a pacifist.
Noticed how Egypt has been treated and why they even refused to accept a president elected. The game is deep. Western education will never inform you, but may indoctrinate or poison your mind to think as they want your to think and write, especially if you’re paid by them to make their case. During that war, they were chasing me around with van in Massachusetts, where they jailed me on my way to Africa in 2019 and then apologized and I went to Africa and came back, Still yet to sue Logan and the airline which forced me to fly into Belgium to Sierra then before coming back on a laisezpassez to show them we are not all as ignorant as they think they educated us when it comes to international laws and human rights.
If you write think Gbagbo was beaten, the rest of the story is messed up. Gbagbo was next after Liberia was given secretly to the west to toy with. If you want to know what’s happening, keep an eye on the pyramids of Amon. After that, see what the Egyptians military controlled regime is doing, their business in Cote D’Ivoire and France and USA connections to the above mentioned and west Africa. Your mind would explode. I saw Abydos in Jao Land in 2019, sat with the people and can show u more of the arts and wisdom of the Nile how amazingly connected west Africa is like a living soul of the Nile. Nu Nen is my Abydos name. Jeh Nu Nen. I speak Amen, yes it’s a language of Tor Ayo or the people of wisdom, sages. If patriotic man like Gbagbo runs his nation peacefully, economic and cultural glories would would restored. No.more French and eu abuses. The Nike would have to hear from us, no more keeping geza staring in hope like a dog left at home solo.
The fake newsis the political narratives of the west. Reality is silence of the majority which won for Gbagbo but were silenced so they remain silent staring at president they don’t like didn’t vote for.
I was in San Pedro when Gbagbo won against Gen. G. Robert. Crisis next day at the circle point began 20 or less ft away from me and my two friends, Rodrigue and Sundé. We survived. My pets were slaughtered by grenade explosive thrown from the main st onto our house. I used lime to avoid being choked to death by grenades. Moral of the long story was about fake news, which until one knows what is happening, one risks actually selling the very fake news versions of reality while writing on the subject. Stay blessed.
Jeh Nunen TomasAten.
BA History, UMAINE.