Deceptive ads and the DRC election: help us document possible election fraud

The Democratic Republic of Congo held presidential elections on December 30, 2018. Preliminary results were originally scheduled to be released yesterday, January 6th, but the head of the electoral commission has delayed reporting those results because as of Saturday the 5th, less than half of the votes had been transported to counting centers.

So why are ads on Google and Facebook, apparently targeted towards internet users in DRC’s neighbor, Congo-Brazzaville, declaring Emmanuel Shadary to be DRC’s new president?

The ads above were forwarded to me from an NGO worker in Brazzaville, across the river from Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. There’s regular traffic between Brazzaville and Kinshasa, which may be one of the major ways information is getting into DRC, as election officials have shut off the internet, turned off SMS messaging, and ordered Radio France Internationale off the air.

These ads would be illegal in DRC, where it is prohibited to announce an election winner before the electoral commission releases results. Furthermore, there’s a good chance that they are fake news, designed to help the incumbent government remain in power. Unfortunately, Facebook and Google’s powerful ad systems may be being used to reinforce election fraud, either by targeting these ads to Brazzaville or to DRC itself, where a small number of people are still on the internet. (While 3G and 4G services are down, some businesses are reported to be online.)

Background: For the past 18 years, Joseph Kabila has been president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who took office after his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated in 2001. Elected to two terms in 2006 and 2011, Kabila was mandated to step down from his office in 2016. He didn’t. Instead, DRC’s electoral authority announced that an election couldn’t be held until 2018. This is that election, and Kabila eventually announced that he would not stand.

Instead, he threw his support behind Emmanuel Shadary, who served under Kabila as minister of the interior. During his time serving Kabila, Shadary controlled the police and security services, and is alleged to have used those forces to violently suppress protests and to arrest opposition politicians. He has been sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations and is prohibited from entering the EU.

The Catholic Church, a powerful force in Congo, monitored the elections using 40,000 observers and states that it knows who actually won the elections. Given that businessman Martin Fayulu had led Shadary by more than 30 percentage points in recent polls, the Church’s call for the release of results is seen as an indication that they believe Shadary has lost the election.

If you are anywhere in DRC, or in Brazzaville, Kigali, Gabarone, Kampala or in other locations that border on DRC, and you’re seeing ads that declare any candidate the winner of the DRC elections, PLEASE TAKE SCREENSHOTS including the URL of the page. Please click on the ad, and screenshot the page it returns, including the URL. Send those screenshots to my team at MIT: ethanz AT mit DOT edu — we are collecting these images so we can ask Google and Facebook to prevent the transmission of false information that could be used to cement a stolen election.


Originally published at … My heart’s in Accra.