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Clemson University Report: Old Despots, New Tricks – Exposing Kagame's AI-Driven Media Propaganda to reshape public opinion

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Mbeki edmond

Jun 22, 2024

How Rwanda's Ruling Party Uses AI and Social Media to Intimidate Critics and Shape Public Opinion

Paul Kagame is a presidential aspirant for a consecutive fourth term.

As Rwanda gears up for President Paul Kagame's fourth consecutive term, a concerning trend has emerged in the digital landscape. Actors aligned with the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have taken to social media platforms to harass and intimidate critics, leveraging advanced AI technologies to bolster their efforts. This report delves into the scope and techniques of a large-scale, coordinated influence campaign orchestrated by RPF-aligned actors.

Key Findings

  • Scale and Scope: The campaign involved at least 464 accounts, issuing over 650,000 messages since January 2024. The use of AI, including large-language models and AI-generated imagery, has accelerated over time.

  • Centralized Messaging: Despite decentralized account operations, the messaging remained centralized, focusing on five main themes: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (52%), Kagame/RPF (20%), critics of Kagame/RPF (16%), government successes (9%), and sports/tourism/events (8%).

  • Targeted Hashtags: These accounts strategically used hashtags to promote or demote narratives, often flooding conversations to suppress opposing viewpoints.

Behind this digital facade lies a well-oiled machine of repression, veiled by Rwanda's international and corporate partnerships. Despite persistent authoritarian tactics, Rwanda has managed to maintain a favorable global image through economic accomplishments, peacekeeping efforts, and international outreach, including agreements to host deported asylum seekers from the UK.

Coordinated Influence Operations

Recent investigations reveal a network of over 460 accounts on X/Twitter, most claiming to be based in Rwanda. These accounts, active since early 2024, push narratives favorable to Kagame and the RPF while targeting perceived enemies of the state. The campaign's coordinated nature is evident in its efforts to influence discourse about the Kagame regime's performance and discredit prominent critics.

Thematic Analysis of Hashtags

The campaign's primary targets are evident from the analysis of the 200 most-used hashtags by these accounts. These hashtags fall into five categories:

  1. Democratic Republic of the Congo: Focused on the ongoing conflict, attacking the country's president, and calling for disarmament.

  2. Kagame – RPF: Supportive hashtags for Paul Kagame and the RPF.

  3. Deflection of Criticism: Addressing critics of the regime, including journalists, reports, and organizations like the UN, using flooding and direct attacks.

  4. Sports – Tourism – Events: Promoting Rwanda's associations with sports teams and tourism offerings, exemplifying the state's "sportswashing" strategy.

  5. Government Successes: Highlighting domestic achievements to bolster the regime's image.

By integrating AI and generative artificial intelligence into their digital strategies, pro-Kagame actors have created a sophisticated propaganda machine. This coordinated effort not only promotes the regime but also systematically silences dissent and manipulates public perception. As the international community continues to engage with Rwanda, it is crucial to recognize and address these digital tactics of repression.

In exposing these patterns, we shed light on the high levels of coordination and the novel tools employed by pro-government social media accounts. It is imperative to remain vigilant against such digital manipulation, ensuring a free and fair discourse in the digital age.

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