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Russia uses social media channels to exploit Niger coup



Social media channels associated with the Russian state have launched a major effort to exploit last month’s military coup in Niger, seeking to reinforce Moscow’s influence in the country and possibly open opportunities for intervention.

Mohamed Bazoum, the pro-western elected president, was ousted by senior army officers on 26 July and is being held prisoner in his official residence in Niamey. African leaders have threatened military action to oust the new regime but advocates of intervention have so far been unable to rally sufficient support.

Activity focusing on Niger on channels linked to the paramilitary Wagner group declined sharply after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s leader, in a plane crash north of Moscow last week, expert analysis has revealed.

But pro-Russian Telegram channels more broadly have continued to discuss or push disinformation about Niger at generally the same levels as before Prigozhin’s death, according to research by Logically, a technology company tackling potentially harmful online content and disinformation based in the UK, India and US.


Prigozhin, who led a rebellion in Russia in June, spearheaded a disinformation offensive in Africa that played a key role in the expansion of Russian influence in strategic areas such as the Sahel.

Content about Niger across 45 Russian Telegram channels affiliated with the Russian state or Wagner increased by 6,645% in the month after the coup, suggesting a keen interest in Moscow in exploiting the upheaval.

Logically detected only 11 pieces of content relating to Niger in the month before the coup, and 742 pieces of content since. The company identified a significant increase in the amount of content pushing anti-French narratives on these accounts, though it found that negative sentiments towards Paris in Niger, a former French colony, were already widespread before the coup.

The research will reinforce fears that Russia will seek to win influence, lucrative contracts and access to key resources in Niger after the overthrow of Bazoum.

The overthrow of a civilian government by soldiers in neighbouring Mali in 2021 marked a turning point in the battle for influence between Russia and western countries in the Sahel.

The new regime in Mali swiftly concluded a deal with the Wagner group leading to the withdrawal of western forces stationed there, in what was seen as a major victory in Africa for Moscow.

Most observers were taken by surprise by the July coup as Niger was seen as relatively stable, with stronger democratic institutions than many of its neighbours. The country is a key base for western forces and its army has been a partner for the US and other militaries in the troubled Sahel region.

There is no evidence of a concerted Russian effort to destabilise Bazoum’s government immediately before the coup, which analysts have attributed to internal power struggles.

However, Niger has been the focus of influence campaigns on social media before. In mid-February, social media was flooded by a wave of disinformation when Bazoum travelled to Paris for a meeting with Emmanuel Macron.

One video that was circulated widely on TikTok and Facebook in February falsely presented footage filmed during an attempted coup in March 2021 in Niamey as a fresh incident involving firing around the president’s residence. Underneath were postings by contributors that fiercely criticised Bazoum and his support of France.

Other footage was deployed in the same way to mislead viewers. Fake bulletins showed a French attack on a Nigerien military convoy and contained accusations that France’s forces were secretly working with Islamist extremists.

Similar examples found by Logically in recent weeks include a post from a Russian “fact-checking” Telegram channel with more than 600,000 subscribers that claimed instability in Niger and other nations was being fomented by western powers as a consequence of their desire to join the Brics group of developing world countries, which has been broadly supportive of Russia since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

A second post from a Russian state-media outlet with more than 360,000 subscribers on Telegram amplified claims made by the Nigerien regime that two countries from the Ecowas regional bloc of west African nations were close to launching a military intervention to restore Bazoum to power.

“Social media accounts quite quickly pivoted to Niger … [with] some serious issues with misattributed footage. There is a big audience for pro-Kremlin narratives that contradict western countries’ pro-Ukrainian narratives,” said Kyle Walter, the head of research at Logically.

Social media was blamed for fuelling mounting hostility towards France that led Paris to pull its troops out of Mali and Central African Republic in 2022 and from Burkina Faso this year.

The future of the Wagner group on the continent remains uncertain. The networks of companies set up by Prigozhin have been very successful in extracting gold, diamonds, valuable timber and much else from African countries as well as winning contracts as mercenaries in Central African Republic, Mozambique, Libya and elsewhere.

“It’s unclear whether there will be a wholesale takeover of Wagner by some part of the Russian state or if Moscow will try to use a constellation of other groups as it tries to maintain the influence it has won,” said Dino Mahtani, an independent analyst and veteran observer of African affairs. “There has been a rise in pro-Russian sentiment in many of these countries that Moscow will want to reinforce.”

The continuing effort by accounts linked to the Russian state to exploit the upheaval suggests the Kremlin will seek to ensure continuity as it takes over the influence operations as well as networks and businesses run by Prigozhin.

Several Facebook pages that shared the fake news about recent turmoil in Niger have previously disseminated pro-Russian material or taken aim at the French presence in the Sahel.

One page amplified false reports on Facebook and Twitter in April 2022 that accused French troops of committing atrocities in central Mali and displayed supposed pictures of a mass grave dug up at Gossi, near a French military base that had just been handed back to the Malian army.

The French army revealed it had used a drone to film what appeared to be Russian mercenaries burying corpses several days earlier.

CAR also has hired Russian mercenaries, and there are concerns that Burkina Faso may now do the same.

In January, an animated video showing a Wagner operative helping west African countries fight off zombie French soldiers began circulating on social media and pro-Kremlin Telegram channels. According to the Atlantic Council, a US based thinktank that tracks disinformation, the origin of the video has not been identified but it appears to have first been posted on Twitter on 14 January, then migrated to alternative video platforms before being shared elsewhere.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, last week told the BBC he did not think Russia or Wagner had instigated Niger’s coup but they had “tried to take advantage of it”.

Forty-eight hours before Prigozhin’s death, the Wagner boss posted his first video address since leading a short-lived rebellion in Russia in June, appearing in a clip – possibly shot in Mali – on Telegram channels affiliated with the Wagner group.

He said in the clip that Wagner was conducting reconnaissance and search operations and “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free”.



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Elon Musk’s X Slapped With Trademark Lawsuit From Social Media Ad Agency



X CORP., THE company formerly known as Twitter that ditched its bird logo in July, has notched another lawsuit in its growing pile of legal woes.

That ad agency, X Social Media, sued X. Corp in Florida on Monday, arguing that consumers are likely to to confused their ad services with the Elon Musk

The complaint, which was first reported by Bloomberg Law, states that X Social Media, LLC “has continuously used the X Social Media Mark in commerce since at least early 2016,” and that the Elon Musk-owned company was aware of X Social Media’s pre-existing rights to the trademark its brand overhaul.

In the filing, X Social Media — an advertising agency service geared towards law firms — claims that it has invested over $400 million in advertising, $2 million of which was dedicated to brand awareness, and that X. Corp’s name change will be “financially and strategically harmful” to the Florida-based agency.


“In a short time, X Corp. has wielded its social media clout, marketing resources, and overall national notoriety to dominate consumer perception of its ‘X’ mark,” the complaint states.

It is seeking an order that would block X Corp. from continuing to use the X name and requested an unspecified amount of money damages.

Elsewhere on Monday, Musk was also sued for libel after falsely claiming Ben Brody, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Riverside, California, was a government agent posing as a neo-Nazi. The lawsuit accused the billionaire of making “reckless false statements” and “promotion of disinformation,” and seeks $1 million in damages.

Texas firm Farrar & Ball attorney Mark Bankston, Brody’s legal counsel, wrote in an X post that Brody and his family were doxxed as a result of the conspiracy theory Musk promoted on his site, and had to flee their home during “weeks of terror.” Brody, he wrote, has a reputation now “catastrophically damaged” by the wealthiest man on the planet and has suffered mental anguish “at the crucial moment when he exits college and enters his career path.”

Despite his lawyers being informed of Brody’s defamation claim in August, Bankston has said that Musk declined to either retract his unfounded accusation or apologize for it.


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Sources – James Harden, seeking trade, not at 76ers media day



CAMDEN, N.J. — It took nearly four minutes Monday morning for Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to say James Harden‘s name. But, after rattling off the names of several other players and speaking confidently about the team’s chances to contend this season, Morey turned to the matter of Harden’s absence from media day.

“I want to address James Harden,” Morey said, sitting on a dais next to coach Nick Nurse, both wearing matching blue blazers to kick off the interviews. “He’s not here today. He continues to seek a trade, and we’re working with his representation to resolve that in the best way for the 76ers and, hopefully, all parties.”

Harden’s decision not to come Monday was the latest push in a summer full of them to fulfill his desire to be dealt to the LA Clippers. But although the two teams have talked recently, there’s been no traction on a deal, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.


The Sixers’ asking price remains high, and the Clippers don’t seem inclined to bid against themselves in a marketplace that is cool to unloading significant trade assets for Harden, sources told Wojnarowski.

As a result, Harden is still a member of the 76ers — and the franchise clearly would love for him to return and help in what the 76ers still believe is a group good enough to compete for a championship, even in the wake of the moves the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics made to get Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, respectively, over the past few days.

“Who said they surpassed us?” reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid responded to a reporter. “We still gotta go out there and compete. You can do whatever you want off the court, but you still gotta go out there and put the ball in the hoop.

“I believe that any team that I’m on, we always gonna have a chance. Just need to be a little bit lucky. Just need to stay healthy — be healthy and stay healthy — and, you know, as a team, just come together.”

Harden exercised his $35.6 million contract option for the season in June with hopes of the Sixers trading him before camp, but Morey has shown a willingness to wait out Harden and try to get him reinvested in the team.

To that end, the message over and over again from the 76ers was that they hope they can get Harden to come back and take part alongside them. Harden on Friday was paid the 25% of his contract that he was scheduled to receive by Sunday, sources said, after already having received the 25% payment he was scheduled to receive on July 1.

It remains unclear when, or if, Harden is going to rejoin the team, which is flying to Fort Collins on Monday afternoon before holding training camp at Colorado State University for the next several days.

Morey, when asked if Harden would be fined for missing Monday, said the team would “treat James like every other player on the roster as required by the CBA.”

In August, Harden publicly called Morey a “liar” and suggested he wouldn’t fulfill his contractual services with the Sixers as long as Morey remained president. The league fined Harden $100,000.

In a call with league and union officials during the NBA’s investigation into the comments, Harden insisted he would be fulfilling his contractual obligations with the Sixers should he remain without a trade, sources said.

Morey, who has previously had a close relationship with Harden going back to when he acquired him as the general manage of the Houston Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder just before the start of the 2012-13 NBA season, admitted this summer was difficult for him given how it’s all played out in the public sphere.

“I would say it was hard,” Morey said. “I think there are many people who worked with him for some time, but I’ve been right there with anyone else.

“Look, I think he’s a heck of a basketball player. I like him as a person. It was hard, I think, that he felt like that was the right course of action for him at that point. What else can I say? I think he’s a tremendous player that will help us if he chooses to be here. And, right now, that’s not where he wants to be.”

Morey did, however, push back on Harden’s assertion that he is a liar.

“I don’t think I have to interpret it,” Morey said. “He said what he meant. I think that was well reported on.

“I haven’t responded to that because I think it falls flat on its face. In 20 years of working in the league, always followed through on everything. Every top agent knows that. Everyone in the league knows. You can’t operate in this job without that. So, you know, privately I’ve appreciated all the key people in the league reaching out to me and knowing obviously that’s not true. But like I said before, obviously it was disappointing that he chose to handle it that way.”

Now, Philadelphia begins preparations for training camp — its first under Nurse, who replaced Doc Rivers earlier this summer — unsure of when — or if — its star point guard will join them. To that end, Nurse said he and the team will be preparing for both possibilities and will address them as things unfold.

“For me, it’s, it’s obviously we’ve kind of got Plan A, Plan B, right? We’ve gotta get the team ready regardless. We’re expecting him to show up.

“He shows up? We go. If he doesn’t? We go. There’s two ways to look at it. And we proceed and we really get to work in building our foundation of what we want to do, getting all our principles in, all the things that we want to do, and play the style of play we want to play regardless.”

Perhaps the best summation of the situation, however, came from Harden’s longtime friend and teammate P.J. Tucker, who was asked whether he thought Harden would be back anytime soon.

“That ain’t for me to answer,” Tucker said with a laugh and a shake of his head. “I have no idea.

“I hope they figure it out soon. But if not, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be.”


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James Harden skips 76ers media day to take trade demand to next level – SB Nation



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