ElectionsResearchSierra Leone

Bots, impersonation, and disinformation: The battle for truth ahead of Sierra Leone’s close race election

The Sierra Leone election, scheduled for Saturday, June 24, 2023, is shaping up to be a highly competitive race with 13 candidates and political parties vying for the presidency. However, all eyes are on the leading contenders: incumbent President Julius Maada Bio of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and Samura Kamara from the All People’s Congress (APC). The American Embassy has already expressed concerns about the potential for a close and tense election.

The influence of social media in African politics is on the rise, and political actors are increasingly recognising its potency in shaping political discourse. This has been evident in the lead-up and during the 2023 general elections in Nigeria—a more reason why DUBAWA is monitoring this process in Sierra Leone as well.. 

Notably, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are inundated with accounts impersonating the leading candidates. In the case of President Bio, five Twitter accounts operate under his name (see the list, table 2 below), complete with his picture, but lacking any disclaimers. Botsight, an online tool identifying Twitter bots, has flagged these accounts as bots. Although the intentions behind these accounts are unclear, they have amassed a significant number of followers, leading users to believe that they are indeed the president’s official accounts.

A screenshot of accounts on Twitter rated as bots masquerading in the name of incumbent President Bio.

A similar situation exists for Samura Kamara of the opposition party. Ten Twitter accounts feature as Dr Samura, bearing his picture and appearing active on the platform (see the list, table 4 below). These accounts also have substantial followings and high bot ratings.

A screenshot of accounts on Twitter rated as bots masquerading in the name of the opposition candidate Dr Samura Kamara.

This pattern of impersonation extends to Facebook as well. Eight accounts claiming to be President Bio with  his picture have gained considerable attention from online users (see the list, table 1 below.)

Multiple accounts on Facebook impersonating President Bio.

One account, with over 3,000 followers and active engagement, has received comments from users expressing their support for the president. However, the true identity behind this account is a person named ‘Sonny Dawah.’ The link to President Bio’s alleged Facebook account revealed this connection. The account of Sonny Dawah and the said account has the same user name: “Sonny Dawah”.

Both the link to the alleged president’s name and that of Sonny Dawah carry the same name. This happens because Sonny Dawah used his account to create the fake one impersonating the president. 

One noticeable connection between the two accounts is that Sonny Dawah’s profile picture was previously shared on the acclaimed president’s accounts. 

Further investigation into Sonny Dawah’s Facebook accounts confirmed his unwavering support for President Bio, and other details such as user name, school attended, and location were the same as those on the alleged President’s account.   Despite several attempts to contact Sonny Dawah regarding the fake accounts, he chose not to respond.

Not surprisingly, numerous Facebook accounts were also masquerading as Dr Samura Kamara and one account stands out. It has 15,000 followers and was created in 2017. In fact, a  Google search for Dr Samura Kamara’s Facebook page leads to this particular account

A screenshot of the alleged account masking as Dr Samura

A Google search of opposition leader Samura Kamara links users to the questionable Facebook account.

However, something appears strange in the account. The timeline is filled with posts promoting M&S interior decor. The origin of these posts can be traced back to a user on Facebook named “Gbassay Fofana,” suspected of being behind the impersonating account. 

The alleged Facebook page of Dr Samura riddled with furniture and decor promotions.

Gbassay Fofana appears to operate multiple Facebook accounts all promoting M&S interior decors, as evidenced by his pictures on all the accounts. On the Facebook account: “Mo Fofana”, the same promotions are  seen on the timeline with his pictures as those of “Gbassay Fofana.”

In another account, “Shadia Fofana,” whom Mr Gbassay described in one of his posts as his wife, the same M&S decor promotion, was also shared on the timeline. 

Alleged wife to Mr Gbassay sharing the same promotional.

In fact, further search on Facebook revealed the two accounts, “Mo Fofana” and “Gbassay Fofana,” are behind most of the M&S promotional in different Facebook marketplaces online. 

In these different marketplaces on Facebook, these accounts were also traced to be sharing the same M&S decor promotions as that found on the alleged Dr Samura’s Facebook timeline. 

DUBAWA made several attempts to contact Mr Gbassay via all his Facebook pages to seek clarification regarding the impersonating accounts in Dr Kamara’s name, but no response was received. 

Peter Beckley, Outreach Coordinator, Ministry of Political Affairs, Sierra Leone, who helped DUBAWA to identify the original accounts of the candidates on Facebook, also mentioned that he had noticed the prevalence of these fake accounts on social media but did not know how to go about it. 

“I have seen these Fake accounts. People take them seriously and even engage with them. I am worried about what they can do in the upcoming elections. That is why we need to do something about them urgently.”

Threats of disinformation ahead of the Elections

Furthermore, an account on Twitter, Idrissa bio (@idrissa_bio), has been continuously spreading false information about the upcoming elections in Sierra Leone. For example, the user tweeted a doctored image suggesting that the people of Kono opposed the APC party in 2023.

A screenshot of the claim made by the Twitter user.

However, not only was the image manipulated, but the billboard in question was located in Bo, not Kono. A video documentary shared here on YouTube gives further details of the actual location. 

The original location features the condition of the doctored billboard.

In another instance, the same user claimed that Dr Samura Kamara had urged Sierra Leoneans to vote for President Bio through a Facebook post. 

However, no such post existed on Dr Kamara’s official Facebook page. The accompanying image in the tweet was also doctored to make it seem like Dr Kamara was endorsing President Bio and was originally taken here, on a pro-Samura Twitter page. 

The original image on the left contains Dr Samura’s red pocket square. A colour that symbolises the APC party. In the doctored image on the right, the pocket square is visibly doctored out, and the logo of the SLPP is added at the top left corner. 

In conclusion, DUBAWA has summarised the fictitious social media accounts in a tabular format below for easy identification. 

Table 1: Accounts on Facebook impersonating President Bio

S/NAccount NameLink
Julius Maada Bio (Maada Juldeh Bio)https://web.facebook.com/sonny.dawah.3
Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/julius.maadabio.313
Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093287460658
H.E Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100091243988359
    5.H.E Julius Maada Bio (Paopa)https://web.facebook.com/h.e.julius.maadabio
6. Brg Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100088824725771
7. He Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093260613422
8. Brg Julius Maada Biohttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100088701368793

Table 2: Accounts on Twitter impersonating President Bio

| Name             | User Name     |


| Julius Maada Bio  | @JuliusMaadaBio|

| Julius Maada Bio  | @MaadaBio      |

| Julius Maada Bio  | @MaadaBio2012  |

| Julius Maada Bio  | @JuliusBio     |

Table 3: Accounts on Facebook impersonating Dr Samura Kamara

Account NameLink
Dr Samura Kamarahttps://web.facebook.com/apcsamurakamara
Dr Samura Kamarahttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100066689730271
Samura Kamarahttps://web.facebook.com/samura.kamara.90
Samura Kamarahttps://web.facebook.com/samura.kamara.129
Samura Kamarahttps://web.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100091904800655

Table 4: Accounts on Twitter impersonating Dr Samura Kamara

| Name                                                          | Twitter Handle        |

|————————————————       |

| Dr Samura Wilson Kamara                     | @Dr_SamuraKamara      |

| Dr Samura Kamara                                 | @SamuraMWKamara       |

| Dr Samura Kamara                                 | @SamuraDr             |

| Dr Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara        |  @samuradr1   |

| samura kamara                                       | @samurakamara7        |

| Samura Kamara                                      | @SamuraKamara         |

| Samura Saidu Kamara                            | @SamuraSaiduKam1      |

| Samura Kamara                                      | @SamuraKamara5        |

| Dr Samura Kamara                                 | @DrSamuraKamara       |

| Samura Kamara                                     | @elimassah            |

| Samura Kamara                                     | @SamuraKamara10       |

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