Bulk of disinformation and misleading information on COVID-19 circulating in Georgia is political in nature and spread by openly pro-Russian as well as Georgian-language news outlets. Key messages conveyed through it are:
- Virus is man-made, manufactured by the USA; some of the outlets assert that the Lugar Lab is the source of virus;
- The role of the Lugar Lab in the fight against pandemic is overstated;
- The EU has abandoned Italy; EU flags are removed in Italy and France;
- Only authoritative countries (Russia, China) can cope with the pandemic;
- Coronavirus undermines religious traditions in Europe;
- The virus has brought the immorality to a halt;
- Americans ask for forgiveness of coronavirus sins through prayers;
- Coronavirus is linked to masons;
- Bill Gates plans to fight coronavirus by implanting microchips on a large scale;
- Russians created a medication against coronavirus.
Channels of spread
Sources of Covid-19 disinformation are both Georgian-language and Russian media outlets. Webpages and IP addresses of some of them are registered in Moscow as well as in other cities of the world.
Storymap: Nestan Ratiani
The CNN and BBC cloned pages are registered in Russia and IP addresses of both are in Saint Petersburg. It is worth to note that press.cnnnews.ru was registered on 3 April 2020, while the fake news about the arrest of a Harvard professor on charges of creating coronavirus for China was published on 6 April, that is three days after the registration. Bbcnewss.website, which also published the identical disinformation on 6 April, was registered 12 days earlier, on 25 March; its IP address is in Saint Petersburg too.
Clickbait sites, msoflio.ru and geoposts.ge, have one administrator (Tato) and identical design, font and sections (“Our News Stories”). Msoflio.ru is newly registered in Moscow, on 6 February 2020; geoposts.ge, while having a Georgian domain, is also registered in Moscow with the identical IP address.
Sputnik-Georgia, one of official Russian propaganda channels, has the Russian IP address and is registered by Rossia Segodnia in Russia.
Yet another pro-Kremlin news outlet, “News Front Georgia,” is registered on the Russian web hosting server reg.ru and its IP address is in the city of Rostov, Russia. The editor of the website is a pro-Russian, Moscow-based actor, Shota Apkhaidze, who has connections with the anti-liberal movement, the “Georgian March.”
Although the domain of “Georgia and World,” which has links to “News Front Georgia,” is registered in Georgia, its “merits” are acknowledged by the Kremlin. The Moscow-based editor of “Georgia and World,” Aleksandre Chachia, was awarded the order by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a huge contribution to the friendship and cooperation with the Russian Federation. The text of the decree reads that Aleksandre Chachia is the chairman of the popular movement “Samegrelo” and the editor of the magazine “Historical Heritage” as well as the newspapers “Ilori” and “Georgia and World” in Georgia.
Prepared by Tamar Kintsurashvili and Nestan Ratiani
Myth Detector Lab