Foreign Influence Operations Target Chad’s 2024 Elections

Blackbird.AI report exposes coordinated campaigns by pro-Russian networks to manipulate online narratives and shape public perceptions of Chad’s presidential candidates in the lead-up to the pivotal 2024 election.

Sarah Boutboul, Beatrice Titus, and Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team on May 16, 2024

As Chad prepared for a pivotal presidential election in May 2024, a new report from Blackbird.AI uncovered evidence of Russian disinformation campaigns seeking to influence online narratives and perceptions of the candidates and the democratic process. The AI-powered Constellation Platform analysis identified four key narratives, posing a moderate-to-high risk, that showed clear signs of manipulation and interference tactics, foreign malign actor influence, and ability to reach communities of interest.

Blackbird.AI’s RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team analyzed social media and news narratives related to the Chad election from February to April 2024 and found that an ecosystem of Africa-focused Russian state supporters played a central role in amplifying content about Chadian politicians in a coordinated manner. Their messaging, which blended organic posts with bot-like amplification, successfully reached other audiences, primarily resonating with those espousing pan-Africanist ideologies. A key aim appeared to be further exacerbating anti-imperialist and anti-West sentiment in Chad during the election period. Notably, the rapid evolution of messaging around the leading candidate – from repeated narrative attacks to positive portrayal in three months – demonstrated pro-Russian attempts to effectively shape online perception to suit a geopolitical agenda amid a highly strategic election. 

One of the most critical dimensions of Blackbird.AI’s narrative intelligence and risk analysis is understanding how all the entities—the authors, the hashtags, and the URLs that make up a narrative—interact with each other. Our network graphs within our Constellation Platform allow us to map out all the relationships between these entities to quickly identify relative influence and pockets of potential risk. For example, here on this network graph, we are visualizing a geopolitical conflict unfolding online.

Narrative 1: The West remains silent on the assassination of Chad’s opposition leader, orchestrated by France

On February 28, Yaya Dillo Djérou – the cousin and main opponent of Chadian transitional president Mahamat Déby in the 2024 election – died in an exchange of gunfire with government security forces. The following day claims from pro-Russian and hyper-agenda-driven partisan influencers emerged, alleging that Dillo’s death was the result of French interference in Chad’s domestic affairs. These cohorts further suggested that Dillo had been murdered by Déby, describing Déby as a corrupt dictator protected by the French government to eliminate any hostility to Western hegemony in the country. Anti-imperialist accounts adopted similar rhetoric aimed at portraying Western leaders as hypocritically indifferent to, if not supportive of, Dillo’s death. Over 30% of accounts compared media coverage of Dillo’s death to the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, claiming that France and the international community only decry human rights violations when it serves their interests. In the months following, the allegations of Paris’ involvement were further amplified by pro-Russian and anti-imperialist cohorts, as unsubstantiated claims emerged alleging that French Intelligence services ordered Dillo’s execution as he became increasingly close to the Kremlin. 

Discussions frequently aimed to demonize the French government, suggesting they supported Dillo’s death. Pro-Russian and anti-imperialist accounts drove this conversation in a highly coordinated fashion, as seen with high levels of anomalous bot activity. They successfully resonated with a pan-Africanist discourse already hostile to any French presence on the continent. Throughout the narrative, hashtags such as #Tchad and #AESinfo – the Russian-brokered Alliance of Sahel States – were used to amplify the visibility of the messaging. 

LEARN MORE: Use Case: Why Government Leaders and Policymakers Need Narrative Risk Intelligence

This graph from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform visualizes networked interactions between narratives, hashtags, and URLs circulating allegations that the West is showing a double standard by failing to denounce the supposed French-backed assassination of Dillo, colorized on a white-to-red gradient-based on anomalous activity.

Narrative 2: Chad’s presidential candidates are French-installed anti-democracy puppets 

Accusations that Chad’s two main presidential candidates, Déby and Succès Masra, are subordinates of the French government earned a moderate level of engagement throughout the period. Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Dashboard flagged the conversation as containing high levels of anomalous activity as Russian State Supporters fueled discussion and amplified it in a coordinated manner. Masra was largely portrayed as a false opposition figure under Déby’s control – with both candidates seen as pawns of French interests against democracy. An African hyper-agenda-driven partisan audience shared this perception and focused on an alleged history of authoritarian practices against their critics – including accusations thatMasra is a criminal who turned his campaign meetings into shows of force. 

In April, pro-Russian and anti-imperialist commentators increasingly focused on French President Emmanuel Macron’s support for Déby and Masra, rather than targeting Déby directly. Assertions that France applies double standards to African military coups perpetrators benefited from bot-like amplification, indicating an effort to boost the visibility of this rhetoric. In this regard, bot-like authors bolstered a claim that the French government only condemns putschists who develop close relations with Russia and, conversely, helps those who promote Western imperialism.  

LEARN MORE: How to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation: Lessons from a Social Media Trust and Safety Expert

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Narrative 3: Chad’s transition president acts in the interests of the population by nationalizing Exxon’s assets

Unlike the two previous pro-Russian conversations analyzed, this narrative expressed positive sentiment towards the candidate. Russian State Supporters shifted the online framing of Déby in April nearing the election, as Chad operated a diplomatic realignment towards Russia. They focused on Déby’s decision to nationalize Exxon’s assets, framing it as a “bold” action serving the interests of the population. This narrative contained high levels of bot-like activity, indicating an inauthentic amplification of this messaging. It experienced a large spike in engagement on April 25 driven by pro-Russian influencers praising the move, notably conflicting previous allegations that Déby continuously raised gas prices in Chad to subsidize his presidential bid. 

LEARN MORE: Misinformation and Disinformation Attack Readiness Assessment

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Narrative 4: Chad’s transition president maintains close relations with the Kremlin and the Wagner Group

Similar to the previous narrative, Russian State Supporters positively portrayed Déby from April onwards, commending him for maintaining close relations with the Kremlin. On April 28, they shared unfounded allegations that Déby welcomed hundreds of Russian Wagner Group paramilitaries in the run-up to the presidential election, presenting this alleged move as the end of Chad’s cooperation with France in favor of supposedly greater power to help Chad fight terrorism. High levels of bot-like accounts shared these assertions, enhancing the narrative’s circulation.

LEARN MORE: How Compass by Blackbird.AI Uses Generative AI to Help Organizations Fight Narrative Attacks

This graph from Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform illustrates the networked connections between accounts across all four narratives. The largest nodes of the graph repeatedly circulated and amplified claims related to Chad’s presidential candidates from multiple perspectives, as indicated by the overlapping colors. 

Key Takeaways

The RAV3N team’s findings are an early warning of malign efforts to distort the online information environment and inflame anti-democratic and anti-West sentiment for strategic purposes. Election inspectors must monitor, expose, and counter false narratives that could undermine the integrity of the democratic process.

The report provides an illuminating look at how Russian-aligned disinformation networks are maneuvering to shape online narratives surrounding Chad’s 2024 presidential candidates. 

  • A coordinated ecosystem of pro-Russian accounts targeted Chadian politicians with campaigns blending authentic and inauthentic amplification. These efforts showed success in reaching sympathetic audiences like hyper-agenda-driven anti-imperialist and pan-Africanist communities.
  • Over the February-April period, there was a notable shift in how interim president Mahamat Déby was framed. The narrative shifted from portraying him as a dictator serving Western interests to a populist hero standing up to France and defending Chadians. This appears to correlate with Chad’s diplomatic realignment towards Russia.
  • Specific influencers played a crucial role in driving the inauthentic amplification of anti-French government and anti-Déby content while maintaining reported links to Chadian rebel groups. This raises the risk of disinformation fueling real-world tensions or violence around the election.
  • Pro-Russian narrative tactics demonstrated high agility in evolving portrayals of key politicians to match changing geopolitical winds and on-the-ground developments. The seemingly coordinated speed of the April shift reveals the systematic and responsive nature of these campaigns.

Geopolitical competition is a high-stakes in both the kinetic and digital battlespace. Policymakers, elected leaders, and government workers at democratic institutions must be proactive in understanding adversarial attempts to shape realities on the ground. Identifying and exposing disinformation early and often will be key to ensuring free and fair elections.

‍To learn more about how Blackbird.AI can help you with election integrity, contact us here.

About Blackbird.AI

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.

Need help protecting your organization?

Book a demo today to learn more about Blackbird.AI.