AI-Driven Influence Campaigns and Digital Repression in Rwanda

The report “Old Despots, New Tricks – An AI-Empowered Pro-Kagame/RPF Coordinated Influence Network on X,” published on June 20, 2024, by Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub, exposes a sophisticated digital influence campaign orchestrated by actors aligned with Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), under President Paul Kagame.

This extensive study identifies a network of at least 464 accounts on X (formerly Twitter), generating over 650,000 messages since January 2024. These accounts primarily focus on promoting pro-Kagame and RPF narratives while attacking critics and manipulating discussions on key issues such as the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), government successes, and sports/tourism events.

The campaign makes extensive use of advanced AI tools, including large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT and AI-generated imagery, to create and disseminate content. This technology enables the network to produce diverse and voluminous content quickly, facilitating the flooding of social media platforms with pro-government messages and drowning out dissent. Leaked prompts and generated content mistakenly posted by the accounts provide evidence of this AI usage.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The involvement of at least 464 accounts, with output accelerating over time.
  • Extensive use of AI, including ChatGPT for text generation and AI tools for creating images.
  • Centralized and coordinated messaging with decentralized account operation.
  • Focus on five broad themes: the DRC (52%), Kagame/RPF (20%), critics of Kagame/RPF (16%), government successes (9%), and sports/tourism/events (8%).
  • Targeted use of hashtags to promote and demote specific narratives, effectively overwhelming conversations on critical topics.

The report highlights Rwanda’s sophisticated digital repression capacity, which aims to mitigate criticism and increase control. This includes state propaganda, harassment of critics, and targeted assassinations. Despite these tactics, Rwanda maintains a positive global standing by promoting its economic achievements, regional peacekeeping efforts, and international outreach, such as hosting deported asylum seekers from the United Kingdom.

Rwanda’s collaboration with global public relations firms helps manage its reputation, promoting cultural events and sports partnerships, such as with the NBA’s Basketball Africa League (BAL), Arsenal FC, Bayern Munich FC, and Paris Saint-Germain. These partnerships help sustain Rwanda’s global credibility, often through strategic ignorance of the regime’s authoritarian practices.

In May 2024, Forbidden Stories reported on Rwanda’s use of coordinated social media accounts for propaganda and harassment. Clemson University’s report builds on this by detailing the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed in the campaign, illustrating how government-aligned actors amplify their influence through LLMs and generative artificial intelligence (GAI).

The pro-Kagame/RPF network has been active since early 2024, with some accounts dating back further. These accounts pushed narratives favorable to Kagame and the RPF while targeting perceived enemies of the state. The campaign aimed to influence both regional residents and international media, shaping the narrative around Rwanda’s government actions and critics.

The report concludes by emphasizing the evolving nature of state-affiliated influence operations, especially with the integration of advanced AI tools. It calls for collaboration between digital platforms and policymakers to counter the use of AI and synthetic media by authoritarian regimes to uphold democratic principles globally.

This comprehensive analysis reveals the sophisticated efforts of the Rwandan government to control and manipulate public perception, both domestically and internationally. The findings underscore the importance of vigilance and proactive measures in addressing the challenges posed by AI-empowered propaganda and digital repression.