The Rome-based Center for International Studies Ce.SI has revealed that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are leading a cyber-war to support the attack of warlord Khalifa Haftar on Tripoli, in a research that targeted 735 thousand news contents between 1st and 14th April 2019.
The research, entitled “Information Warfare in Libya – The Online Advance of Khalifa Haftar”, concluded that six digital media platforms produced by an Egyptian developer and administrated by a Saudi citizen have copy-pasted around 15 thousand news contents in just half a month and translated it into several languages.
It indicated that the news sites were established to promote that Haftar is the bulwark against terrorism, in the framework of what the centre called a cyber-war for mobilizing people and consolidating domestic and international support for Haftar’s attack on Tripoli.
According to the research, 34.1% of the propaganda contents were produced in Saudi Arabia, followed by the United States 7.3% and Libya 6.9%.
Hier das Summary und im Anschluss der Link zum Download der Studie:
General Khalifa Haftar’s attack on Tripoli has dragged Libya into a new civil war. Between 3 rd and 4 th April, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) from Cyrenaica launched an offensive against the forces of Tripolitania and the UN- supported Government of National Accord (GNA). In order for this operation to succeed, and for Haftar to take power, the General must necessarily build a form of legitimacy at both the local and international level. The war therefore takes place both on the military and on the political-diplomatic level. In this sense, the quality of propaganda and the evolution of online information flows related to Libyan events are of equal importance than developments on the ground.
This analysis focuses on the online side of the recent clashes in Libya in the period 1-14 April. Given the current Libyan context, it was decided to carry out the analy- sis through the perspective of Information Warfare, as it allows to examine the intertwining and correspondences between the development of kinetic actions on the ground and the presence of manipulation activities of the information and communicative ecosystem. The goal is to bring out manipulative activities online, and to underline how these can support specific perceptions of the war (both internally and internationally), as well as the ways in which they contribute to the construction of legitimacy for the belligerents, and in particular for Haftar.
Below are the main findings of the analysis.
- The information horizon about Libya is tainted by Information Warfare actions. More actors in the field, with different techniques, methodologies and objectives are currently active in the information ecosystem developed around the action of Haftar.
- Information Warfare activities detected can be divided into two groups: 1) strategic activities, of high impact and with high potential in the long term; 2) tactical actions, of limited impact and conducted with inferior quality and refinement.
- The strategic activities detected are built around the action of automat- ed informative blogs in Arabic (such as bald-news.com, arabyoum.com, sabq-sa, alsharqtimes.com, medanelakhbar.com, uk.arabicnews.com). These seemingly independent blogs are actually part of a single intercon- nected network. Every day they have published an impressive number of articles in an automated way: more than 15,000 cite Haftar in the 15 days taken into consideration. The contents can be reached online and, above all, they are indexed by the Google News press review.
- If used in an instrumental way, this network of blogs could aim to satu- rate the information horizon, and then try to influence the way in which actors are perceived on the ground. From a strategic point of view, the at- tempt to flood the Arabic press review of Google News with apparently in- dependent contents can be used to set up a precise narrative of the events, poised to be fuelled over time.
- Tactical actions analysed emerge on Social Media via fake Twitter ac- counts (fakebot), which post messages in English (more rarely in French), substantially identical, only apparently spontaneous, and with timing that makes these account suspicious. The study of tweets published shows the construction of a pro-Haftar narrative (as man of order in Libya, spear- heading the fight against Daesh, al-Qaeda, etc.).
- Neither for blog networks nor for fake Twitter accounts can a specific op- erator, or a group of operators, be identified with certainty. However, the narratives conveyed by these tactical activities appear predominantly in support of Haftar. On the other hand, there do not seem to emerge specu- lar tactical actions, that are in favour of the Tripoli front or of some of its leading figures, and as much effective and pervasive as those pro-Haftar.
- As for now, there are two separate information universes. The first is in Arabic, it originates from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and produces almost three-quarters of the detected contents. The second consists of conversations in other languages, mainly produced by the European countries most involved in Libyan dynamics (Italy, France, UK). So far, these two universes have not shown clear channels of con- tact, nor mixtures in the narratives conveyed.
- However, considering both the possibility of a protracted war and Haftar’s strategic objective (acquiring international legitimacy), it is reasonable to expect an increase in hybrid actions in the near future. The emergence of strategic activities, including in non-Arabic languages, is also expected. In particular, an increase in Information Warfare actions aimed at pre- senting Haftar’s attack in the framing of the fight against terrorism ap- pears particularly likely. This is both for internal purposes and for gaining legitimacy before the international community.
- Given the multiple interests of Italy in Libya, the commitment of Italian di- plomacy to support the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, and the presence of Italian soldiers on the ground (mission MIASIT), it cannot be excluded that in the near future such hybrid actions will also hit the dig- ital information horizon related to Italy, in Italian language too.