By Yuri Andropov (Correspondent)
Harare – An elaborate plan to smear Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s name on social media relying on massive misinformation and professional trolls linked to Russia has been exposed.
Per documents provided to Khuluma Afrika by sources and informants, a well-orchestrated plan was launched last week, targeting Mnangagwa.
As early as this year, Minister Zhuwao, a nephew of the President, Robert Mugabe met with elite members of Russia’s Troll Army, commonly known as the Web Brigade – state-sponsored anonymous Internet political commentators and trolls linked to the Russian government.
The purpose of the meeting was to organize large-scale orchestrated trolling and disinformation campaigns to promote pro- Grace Mugabe agenda and an anti-Mnangagwa sentiment.
Last week, the Minister launched a series of attacks against Mnangagwa, whom he said was “unelectable” and that he ‘would kill Zimbabweans, at the least make them suffer’.
During the discussions with their Russian counterparts, Minister Zhuwao is reported to have expressed worry that State Media in Zimbabwe was largely in Mnangagwa’s favour. He also bemoaned that the frosty relations between Zanu PF and independent media like Daily News, and Newsday meant that he could not bank on them to promote their agenda.
It was then that it was suggested that Social Media users be targeted. A list of popular social media figures was drawn up, and it was agreed that they would be approached, targeted, baited, and ultimately sold the idea of starting a massive wave of anti-Mnangagwa sentiments on Facebook and Twitter.
As a buffer for cover, several fake accounts were also set-up, and several active security agents encouraged to become more vocal on Social Media, and attract a large following, for creating an online crowd capable of being fed the false information.
Several online news editors were also targeted for baiting, with some publications being offered sums of between $75,000 to $100,000 USD to swing their editorial stance in favour of the Zhuawo agenda.
At least two news websites were consequently set-up between August and September, while efforts were made to rekindle the Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa pages, and use those as assets against Mnangagwa in the run-up to the elections in 2018.
One of the targeted social media users, who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed that Zhuwao had reached out to him through a proxy, and requested that he provide him with articles to publish on his page, the Minister promised to pay $1,000 USD a month.
It was also established that professional trolls from Ukraine, and Lebanon had been courted by people believed to be a part of G40.
It was not apparently clear at the time of writing how many poplar social media users had accepted the offer, however, we managed to independently confirm and verify that over 113 popular Facebook users, commonly termed Felebs had been approached.
It is expected that within the next few days, several posts will be generated and shared across Facebook groups, all over-emphasizing the role of the Vice President in state perpetrated violence since 1980.
• Yuri Andropov is an investigative journalist, and correspondent of African Affairs at Khuluma Afrika – a center for analysis, investigation, and commentary.