Fake Instagram accounts hijack Sudan solidarity campaign

Accounts use unrest to gain more followers

By Gianluca Mezzofiore, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

Some Instagram accounts have been accused of using a social media campaign that aims to promote solidarity with victims of unrest in Sudan merely to gain more followers on the platform.

KHARTOUM - Some Instagram accounts have been accused of using a social media campaign that aims to promote solidarity with victims of unrest in Sudan merely to gain more followers on the platform.

The country has been plagued by widespread violence since the ousting of longtime dictator President Omar al-Bashir in April.

Last week, people on social media started turning their profile pictures blue in a bid to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Blue was chosen to honor Mohamed Hashim Mattar, a 26-year-old Sudanese who was allegedly shot dead by the Sudanese paramilitary Rapid Support Forces during a crackdown on protesters in the country's capital, Khartoum, on June 3. In a Twitter post, Amnesty International Australia said blue was reportedly Mattar's favorite color.

While celebrities including Rihanna put up the color on their profiles, along with hashtags like #BlueForSudan, others apparently decided to set up bogus Instagram accounts to exploit the campaign to get more followers and shares.

One account, @SudanMealProject, gathered nearly 400,000 followers in less than a week before Instagram removed it for violating its policies.

The account posted a blue photo in reference to #BlueForSudan along with an appeal to follow and share the post.

"For every person who follows and shares this on their story we will provide one meal to starving Sudanese children," it read.

No reference was given to any recognized aid agency working in Sudan or how the meals would be distributed -- despite the fact that a number of established charities have been working to help victims of the country's humanitarian crisis.

How to help Sudan

After the post went viral, many people on Instagram and Twitter started doubting the veracity of its claims. Media outlets such as The Atlantic also reported that @SudanMealProject was fake.

In a statement to CNN, an Instagram spokesperson confirmed it removed the account from the platform for violating its policies. "We will continue to look into this matter and disable further accounts we find in violation of our policies," the spokesperson said.

A quick search on Instagram shows that dozens of bogus accounts with names similar to "Sudan Meal Project" -- using the same appeal and blue photo -- are still populating the social media platform.

One account named @sudanmealprojected amassed 10,200 followers before changing its name to @naughty.jokes_/ according to a CNN analysis on a copy archived on the Wayback Machine website.

Its description read: "Sudan meal project. We're committed to donating up to 100,000 meals to sudanese civilians. Please share our post to spread awareness on this massacre (only account)."

The account now shares jokes and comedy memes.

Another account, @sudanese.meal.project is promoting a streetwear fashion brand. CNN has reached out to these accounts for comment.

CNN's Anita Patrick contributed to this report.

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