#BiafraExit: So…. is this coordinated inauthentic behavior on Twitter?

I first noticed this back in late April. I took some screenshots, saved some URLs, and then promptly forgot about it. If you’re looking for activity on Twitter that resembles a coordinated influence campaign using accounts which blatantly violate many of Twitter’s own rules regarding platform manipulation, then this certainly would seem to be it.

Some months ago, I noticed a number of Tweets which used rhetoric about the Fulani people that I felt bordered on genocidal. The Fulani (or Fula) people are an African tribe of predominately Muslim people that live primarily in west Africa. I had never heard of these people until I became friends with an African guy from Sierra Leone.

I was surprised by the vitriol on Twitter directed at Fulani people in Nigeria. Twitter seemed to have a number of accounts sharing content about the Fulani in Nigeria and implying that they are terrorists. A tweet that caught my attention was a video of some guys running around in a jungle village, haphazardly slaughtering goats. I was under the impression that animal death videos are not allowed — so I began to dig in deeper.

Many of these accounts were sharing identical content on the same day. Many shared hashtags like #FreeMaziNnamdiKanuNow and #BiafraExit. In addition many of them had identical profile pictures.

Profile pictures like this:

A significant number of Twitter accounts sharing either identical (or very similar content) use this particular image of “Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu” with the phrase “Prisoner of Conscience”

Take a look at just a few that I spotted:

Twitter accounts that use an image of Nigerian political leader Nnamdi Kanu as their profile picture.
@BiafraSunny1, @emenikeMaduabu1, @Amumigwe1, @AsaaEgwu — all accounts using the same identical profile picture.
@lucky_ufere, @truthwillalwayp, @Chibuik75754581, @onuorahralph — additional accounts using the same profile picture of Nnamdi Kanu.
@Solu_City, @Luna38633525, @IzuchiukwuO — yet more Twitter accounts that post very similar content about conflict in Nigeria.

I don’t believe that using identical profile pictures is an outright violation of Twitter’s policies regarding platform manipulation and spam, I have found that accounts that use identical profile pictures are usually suspect.

If you’ll remember, the Russians and other countries that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior used stolen (and/or duplicate stolen) profile pictures so often, that an entire new innovation came into being in order to facilitate the creation of artificial images of people.

Anyways, I know that the tribal and religious politics of west Africa can be pretty rough. Some time ago myself and others came across (Cyrillic file names in a word press blog led to interconnected emails, blogs and WhatsApp numbers) evidence of a Russian influence campaign targeting social media users in the Central African Republic.

After spotting a whole host of accounts sharing identical (and menacing) tweets about the Fulani people, I was surprised when I came across this:

A tweet from a Twitter account with a handle of @floydmax11. The profile picture is of Senator Steve Daines of Montana. Bashing French policy in Africa (which a lot of pro-Russian accounts do) this account also was pro-Russia in regards to the war in Ukraine.
Profile picture of Montana Senator Steve Danies — being used by an account sharing a number of extremist and violent tweets on Twitter.

Anti-French and seemingly pro-Russian Tweet targeting African users. I instantly suspected that this could be a Russian related influence campaign.

I dug into it, and I am not so sure.

I’ll dig into this further, and I suppose I will compile a spreadsheet of particular accounts which I think are especially egregious. I’ve done this before with accounts tied to Serbia that were amplifying pro-Trump and anti-NATO narratives for years and years. I dutifully recorded and reported such accounts only to have someone else credited for “alerting” Twitter years after I did. Having private citizens and end users assist with content moderation is kind of like having early hardware adopters be beta testers. Regardless, i’ll keep an eye on these #BiafraExit accounts as well.

I don’t pretend to know anything about Nigeria, or Biafra, or Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, or the Fulani ancestry of President Buhari of Nigeria.

But I can say that there looks to be some clear evidence of rule breaking. Twitter’s platform manipulation and spam policy says that:

The Twitter rules state that one can’t create overlapping accounts, which they define as “operating multiple accounts with overlapping use cases, such as identical or similar personas or substantially similar content.”

If one searches for any of the phrases tweeted out by these supporters of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, you’ll invariably a lot of accounts sharing identical content:

Running a search for the phrases that appear in these tweets show multiple accounts sharing the shame messages.
Running a search for “At last the truth is coming out Gov Okezie Ikpeazu confession on the invasion of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s house” brings back identical accounts sharing identical tweets with the same video.
Multiple accounts sharing the same video with the same garbled wording in the tweet.

And that’s just the benign stuff. As I mentioned it was a video showing animals being slaughtered that got me looking into these. While I couldn’t find that original video (which I reported using multiple of my accounts) I could easily find videos which I feel display animal cruelty.

A video of a man violently punching a goat in a marketplace in Nigeria. The poster believes that if the man is Fulani the video will “go viral”

In addition to animal cruelty, there were multiple accounts sharing identical violent videos of human executions. These most certainly are against the community standards of Twitter:

Multiple videos of men being executed and dumped into a ditch. All videos reported.
Multiple videos of a man being executed in the street. All videos reported.

I’ll dig into these accounts — all of which I suspect fit Twitter’s own definition of coordinated inauthentic behavior to a T.

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