Somali Government Employs Foreign Companies for Smear Campaign against Journalists and Opposition

MOGADISHU (Somaliguardian) – In recent months, there have been reports about overwhelming number of troll accounts created by Somali government to create discord and sway public opinion as Presidential election nears.

The offices of the President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and his PM Hassan Ali Khayre had earlier founded communications’ departments used to sway public opinion, create propaganda and smear individuals deemed against the government.

Channel4 correspondent Jamal Osman previously tweeted a payroll list possibly leaked from the office of the Somali PM. The list included prominent journalists based in Somalia and overseas countries, as well as social media figures who usually carry out smear campaigns against opposition. Average salaries of these individuals were between 300-600 USD while some of them received over 2,000 USD and the total salaries earmarked by office of the PM written on this payroll list reached 250,000USD per month.

However, now the budget has increased to more than $800, 000 paid every month from the donor money to individuals using troll accounts on social media to create fake news, discord, sway public opinion and smear Somali politicians willing to contest against the current leadership in forthcoming elections.

These paid social media accounts not only attack government critics and journalists but also insight violence and abuse tribes that could eventually lead the country to slide back to the 1991 civil war.

VOA Somali Chief Editor Harun Maruf says he obtained documents and information which indicate that foreign companies are involved in strategic communications in a bid to negatively label journalists

“Personally, I obtained documents, info which indicate that foreign companies involved in “strategic communications” negatively label Somali journalists. Using donor funds, they do play a role in creating social media accounts used as attack dogs against journos? Will identify soon” said Harun Maruf, VOA Somali Service’s Chief Editor.

Channel4 correspondent Jamal Osman released a leaked letter sent by the spokesman of the Somali President Abdinur Mohamed telling social media campaign groups funded by the government to swerve public opinion from explosions and fighting but to the recently constructed, towering monuments in Mogadishu.

Moreover, while the involvement of foreign companies in the strategic communications increased, focusing on negatively labeling journalists that want to disseminate information on trusted sources in a way for fake news and discord spread on the internet, fewer media channels still continue to strive reaching out to the public with impartial covering of news.

Trolling made by government paid accounts bountifully happens on the sites like Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook they target journalists that cover news of events according to journalistic standards and they also create hatred against communities of which opposition leaders hail from.

Amnesty International said in a recent report that it documented 16 Facebook accounts which had been permanently disabled, 13 of them belonging to journalists, between 2018 and 2019 by government paid groups designed to work on social media hounding program.

Somali government also pays bribery to editors and ]owners of media houses throughout Somalia to disseminate false information and hide events deemed tarnishing the government’s image, according to Amnesty report. These media houses also propagate fake news at times of wars and explosions as well as other major events, exercising troll campaign against media stations reporting events as it exactly happens while using words upsetting journalists and sometimes labeling them as terrorists.

What goes without saying, though, is that all these are happening to build government’s image and return its lost popularity as it failed to reconcile to its previous commitments from restoring stability –to driving Al-Shabaab out of the country. Meanwhile, election nears and the government employs this campaign to further suppress opposition ahead of contest to office.

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