Pre-Election Monitoring of Disinformation and Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior

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On October 2nd, 2021, Georgia held the local self-government elections, while on October 30th, the second round of mayoral elections was held in 5 self-governing cities and 15 municipalities. “Myth Detector” identified the following types of election-related violations during the pre-election period from July 31st to November 3rd:

  1. Disinformation and other manipulative content
  2. Disinformation and Positioning of Fake Accounts as Election Monitoring Organizations
  3. Facebook Accounts Operating as Regional Media Supporting Political Parties
  4. Individual Fake Accounts Against the Opposition
  5. Coordinated Spread of Disinformation

Main Findings:

The following tendencies emerged during the monitoring period (July 31st – November 3rd):

  • 53 cases of disinformation and manipulative content, of which the largest share (31) amounts to the second round of elections;
  • Out of political parties, most of the disinformation and manipulation was directed against the United National Movement (33), most of which was related to the arrival and arrest of Mikheil Saakashvili;
  • 4 instances of disinformation and manipulative content were revealed against the incumbent “Georgian Dream” party, while 3 cases spreading fabricated research in favour of the GD have been revealed. The widespread disinformation was mainly about the Georgian Dream leaders leaving the country;
  • In addition to other opposition parties (For Georgia, Third Force, Lelo, etc.), 3 disinformation cases targeted the observing organizations;
  • Following disinformation (17), the largest share of the identified content comes from fabricated quotes (15). Mainly, the quotes of politicians were disseminated using the fake visuals of certain media to mislead the audience.
  • Attempts to link the opposition to the previous ruling party were revealed in the case of the “Lelo” party and the Ozurgeti independent candidate.
  • Prior to the local self-government elections, a case was revealed when the Central Election Commission made an accusation against an observer organization based on misinformation spread by a fake Facebook account.
  • While verifying the allegations, “Myth Detector” revealed three fake pages with identical names operating in parallel to the official Facebook page of the Civil Election Commission.
  • While mapping the disinformation campaign against Mikheil Saakashvili, “Myth Detector” revealed ten fake profiles, one of which administered the fake support page of the United National Movement.
  • Several cases of coordinated dissemination of disinformation targeting Saakashvili were identified, some of which were aimed at invoking fears of war and presenting Turkey as a “threat.”

Methodology

The selection of monitoring subjects was carried out through the Facebook analytical tool CrowdTangle, amounting to up to 300 Facebook pages and groups. Within the third-party fact-checking program framework, Myth Detector had access to viral, reported posts from Georgia on Facebook. Fact-checking, as well as identifying unauthorized accounts and coordinated inauthentic behaviour, is based on the Myth Detector methodology, developed according to the best international experience in OSINT research. In the process of research and fact-checking, “Myth Detector” follows the standards set by the IFCN Editorial Code of Conduct.

  1. Disinformation and other manipulative content

During the monitoring period (July 31st  – November 3rd), “Myth Detector” identified 53 cases of disinformation and manipulation, of which 22 took place before the first round of elections and directly on the election day, while the remaining 31 from October 3rd to November 3rd.

The disinformation cases primarily targeted election subjects and political leaders, observers and research organizations. Most of the disinformation revealed during the monitoring was directed against the United National Movement, the most significant part of which was related to the arrival and arrest of Saakashvili, the leader of the UNM:

  • Against the “United National Movement” – 32
  • Against the “Georgian Dream” – 4
  • Against the Observing Organizations – 3
  • Survey Fabricated in Support of the Georgian Dream – 3
  • Against “For Georgia” – 2
  • Against “Third Force” – 2
  • Survey Fabricated in Support of “For Georgia”- 1
  • In Support of the UNM – 1
  • Against “Lelo” – 1
  • Against the ‘Shadow Cabinet’ of the Opposition – 1
  • Against the Independent Mayoral Candidate of Ozurgeti, Konstantine Sharashenidze – 1
  • Survey Fabricated in the Name of Central Elections Commission – 1
  • Against the Research Organization ANOVA-ს and “Mtavari Arkhi” – 1

During the election monitoring, “Myth Detector” identified several types of violations, the most common of which was the spread of disinformation and fabricated quotes:

  • Disinformation – 17
  • Fabricated Quote- 15
  • Manipulative and Misleading Information – 9
  • Photo and Video Manipulation – 8
  • Fabricated Survey – 4
  • Satire – 2

1.1. Disinformation

United National Movement. The most significant share of disinformation was directed against the UNM and its leader, the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Regarding the latter, most of the materials concerned his arrival to Georgia, his arrest, and his personal life. In addition, a large part of the disinformation spread allegations about the internal party split and Nika Melia leaving the party:

  1. Who Spreads Disinformation about Saakashvili Entering Georgia on a NATO Battleship under Turkish Patronage?
  2.  Disinformation: Saakashvili Arrested at the Turkish Consulate

  3.  ‘Samegrelo Times’ and Several Trolls Spread Disinformation about the Mayoral Candidate of Senaki

Georgian Dream. When it comes to the disinformation directed against the incumbent party, both cases were about the leaders of the GD leaving the country:

  1. Misleading Facebook Post Alleging Bidzina Ivanishvili Tried to Leave the Country by a Helicopter

For Georgia.  In both cases, the disinformation against the party was linked to its leader, Giorgi Gakharia. In one case, the misinformation was linked to false election promises, in another to allegations of drug addiction, and in this context to President Salome Zurabishvili:

  1. Fake Election Promises Disseminated in the Name of Gakharia
  2. Fabricated Post Disseminated Against the President and Former Prime Minister in the Name of “TV Imedi.”

Noteworthy, in the latter case, the false information was disseminated in the name of the pro-governmental TV Company Imedi. Fabrication of information on behalf of the media was most often in the form of fabricated quotes, examples of which are discussed in more detail in the following section.

Against ANOVA and Mtavari Arkhi. After “Mtavari Arkhi” terminated the contract with Ipsos to conduct the election exit polls and contracted with the local research company ANOVA to acquire the above-mentioned function in the second round of the elections, the widespread disinformation tried to accentuate ANOVA’s lack of experience, underscoring its unreliability:

  1. Facebook Page Discrediting a Research Organization Contracted with ‘Mtavari Arkhi’

1.2. Fabricated Quotes

Election monitoring revealed 14 cases where fabricated quotes were spread in the name of politicians and their family members.

United National Movement. Most of the fabricated quotes (10) were disseminated in the name of the United National Movement and its supporters. The vast majority of the quotes were ascribed to Mikheil Saakashvili, focusing on the internal conflict of the UNM party:

  1. Fabricated Quote Disseminated in the Name of Former President Saakashvili
  2. Facebook Page Spreading Fabricated Quote in the Name of a UNM Member

  3. Fabricated Quote of a UNM Member Disseminated in the Name of Georgian Public Broadcaster

  4. A Fabricated Quote Disseminated in the Name of Mikheil Saakashvili’s Son

  5. A Fabricated Quote Disseminated in the Name of the Former MP Gubaz Sanikidze

Third Force. Two instances of fabricated quotes against the leaders of the “Third Force’ – Giorgi and Grigol Vashadze – concerned the vulnerable groups, namely the LGBTQ community. The quotes attempted to connect these politicians with unpopular topics during the election run-ups:

  1. Facebook Account „Political Satire” Spreads a Fabricated Quote in the Name of Giorgi Vashadze
  2. Who Spreads the Fake Quote of Giorgi and Grigol Vashadze?

Fabricated Quote in the Name of the CEC. On September 26th, a fake page was created on behalf of the CEC, which published one disinformation about Zviad Kuprava, UNM affiliate:

  1. Fake Facebook Page Posing as “Election Administration of Georgia” Disseminates Disinformation in the Name of Zviad Kuprava

Fabricated Quotes in the Name of Media. “Myth Detector” identified a tendency when quotes were fabricated in the name of traditional media outlets. Noteworthy, in 8 cases, the quotes were made using the logos and visuals of various media, most of them critical of the government. The purpose of disseminating fabricated in the name of the mainstream media was to gain more credibility and to mislead the readers. This trend became even more apparent during the second round of elections when the spread of fabricated quotes in the name of the arrested former president Saakashvili increased. These quotes mainly used the names and logos of the media affiliated with the opposition.

1.3. Manipulative and Misleading Information

United National Movement. The target of manipulative and misleading information in most cases was the United National Movement and its leaders:

  1. Who Asked Volodymyr Zelensky to Demand the Immediate Release of the Georgian Ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili?
  2. What did Zhirinovsky Say about Saakashvili’s Arrest?

  3. Pro-Governmental Online Media Outlet Spreads a Manipulative Headline Featuring Kelly Degnan and Mikheil Saakashvili

  4. Did the Mayoral Candidate Nika Melia Admit that the Elections are not being Rigged?

Against the ‘Shadow Cabinet’ of the Opposition. Media outlets with a pro-governmental editorial policy published a sarcastic post by a pro-governmental expert without any relevant reference, which was perceived as accurate information by the public:

  1. Pro-Governmental Media Spreading Misleading Information about the Shadow Cabinet of the Opposition

1.4. Photo and Video Manipulation

United National Movement. The large portion of the photo and video manipulation disseminated during the election period targeted Mikheil Saakashvili:

  1. Was the Ex-President Saakashvili Spotted at the Georgian-Turkish Border?
  2. In front of the Royal Palace in Madrid or At the Rustavi Prison to Support the Ex-President Saakashvili?

  3. Was the Ex-President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, Spotted Dancing in a Nightclub in Kiev?

  4. A Facebook Troll Spreading Disinformation about the Ukrainian MP and the New Partner of Ex-President Saakashvili

  5.  Old Photo of Mikheil Saakashvili, Claimed as Current, Goes Viral on Social Media

Georgian Dream. The photo, as if Kakha Kaladze, the mayor of Tbilisi, met a child wearing the symbolics of the United National Movement, was altered and did not reflect the reality:

  1. During the Meeting with Kaladze, the Kid did not Wear a Saakashvili-Supporting T-Shirt

Lelo. To replace the song performed by Mamuka Khazaradze, one of the leaders of the “Lelo” party, with a song supportive of Saakashvili aimed to link Khazaradze with the third president of Georgia:

  1. The Leader of “Lelo” Party Accused of Devoting a Song to Former President Saakashvili

In Support of the UNM. After Mikheil Saakashvili posted a photo of a return ticket to Georgia, a photo of the French Olympians with a false description was shared on the social media, claiming that it depicted migrants meeting Saakashvili:

  1. Are the Emigrants Returning to Georgia to Welcome the Ex-President Saakashvili for the Upcoming Elections?

Against the Independent Mayoral Candidate of Ozurgeti. The Facebook page ‘Guria Times’ published a post depicting the electoral posters of Konstantine Sharashenidze, the independent mayoral candidate of Ozurgeti. The posters include the picture of Sharashenidze alongside the logo of the United National Movement and electoral number 5 and are accompanied by the following quote: “UNM must return to Ozurgeti.” According to Guria Times, for years, Sharashenidze has been deceiving the population, making them believe he was loyal to the Georgian Dream; however, he was spotted attending secret meetings with the UNM.

  1. Guria Times Spreads a Fabricated Poster about the Independent Mayoral Candidate of Ozurgeti

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1.5. Fabricated Survey 

In the elections run-up, also on election day, four fabricated polls were published, which in 3 cases hinted at the advantage of the ruling Georgian Dream party and in the remaining 1 case, on the advantage of former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia over the Georgian Party:

  • In Support of “For Georgia”
  1. “Timer” Spreads False Information Regarding the Survey on Political Party Support
  2. Facebook Page Spreading Fake Election Survey in the Name of Ipsos

  3. Facebook Pages Spreading Fake Election Survey in the Name of Edison Research
  • In Support of “For Georgia”
  1. Facebook Page Supportive of Giorgi Gakharia Shares False Results of “Georgian Dream’s” Pre-election Survey

1.6. Satire

During the election period, “Myth Detector” revealed 2 cases when satirical information about politicians was spread without proper reference, making part of the audience actually perceive it as accurate. One case concerned Georgian Dream mayoral candidate Kakha Kaladze and the other involved UNM leader Mikheil Saakashvili:

  1. A Poster Depicting Kaladze’s Support to UNM Belongs to a Satirical Outlet

2. Disinformation and Fake Accounts in the Name of Observer Organizations

Prior to the local self-government elections, the Central Election Commission made an accusation against an observer organization based on disinformation spread by a fake Facebook account. In particular, the spokesman of the CEC Information Security Center accused the civil movement “Shame” and the platform established by the Association of Public Initiatives (PIA) – “Civil Election Commission” of spreading false information.

While verifying the allegations, “Myth Detector” revealed three fake pages with identical names operating in parallel to the official Facebook page of the Civil Election Commission. One of them published identical posts of the real page of the Civil Election Commission during the pre-election period and started publishing different disinformation posts directly on the election day. It was on one of these fake pages posts that a CEC representative used to accuse the election observer organization of spreading false information.

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In addition to the inauthentic accounts, “Myth Detector” marked three disinformation posts on Facebook published by one of the fake pages, after which the page is no longer available.

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  1. Facebook Accounts Operating as Regional Media Supporting Political Parties

During the pre-election period, “Myth Detector” identified 11 Facebook pages, 6 of which were posing as regional media and five represented regional media outlets, but disseminated posts aimed to discredit some parties and their opponents, and in some cases, supported them. 5 out of 11 pages supported the Georgian Dream, three supported “for Georgia,” 2 supported the „Patriots Alliance“, 1 – Girchi, 2 – the opposition. In addition, several socio-cultural sites aimed at promoting the region were also identified, which also supported the party and individual politicians.

Noteworthy, part of the Facebook pages did not specify the web address or have been previously operated under another name. One of them, “Chiatura News,” changed its name to “Starch” after the election on October 21st. Before that, the page operated under the name “Giorgi Kasradze,” who is the host of TV “Obieqtivi” and participated in the 2021 local self-government elections in Chiatura on behalf of the “Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.”

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  1. Individual Fake Accounts

While mapping the disinformation campaign against Mikheil Saakashvili, “Myth Detector” identified ten fake profiles, one of which was the administrator of a fake UnitedNational Movement support group (Freedom to President Saakashvili) and actively disseminated fabricated cards and quotes in the name of the mainstream media. After marking the posts on his profile as false, the account is no longer available, and Saakashvili’s support group is left without an administrator. 7 out of 10 fake profiles stole the identities of others and were active subscribers and sharers of the discrediting pages of the Georgian Dream opponents.

Another troll was disseminating disinformation about Liza Yasko on Election Day.

  1. Coordinated Spread of Disinformation

After the return and arrest of Mikheil Saakashvili, several coordinated campaigns were launched on the social network to disseminate disinformation and discredit the third president of Georgia.

  1. The most widespread disinformation was about Saakashvili granting Georgian citizenship to 28,000 Turkish citizens, which in fact, has been a part of a large-scale disinformation campaign foryears now. Inreality, in 2004-2018, a total of 3,050 citizens of Turkey were granted Georgian citizenship, of which only 2,866 cases occurred during the rule of the United National Movement.
  2. On October 29th, 202, a few hours before the start of the second round of local self-government elections, an article of the online news agency NSP.ge of August 17th, 2020, was disseminated in acoordinated manner on the social network. The piece uses the following headline “Scandalous Statement of the Russian General: We were not planning to enter Akhalgori in 2008 – we occupied the district at the request of Kakha Lomaia” and creates the impression that the Akhalgori district was occupied by the effort of the leaders of the United National Movement. The article also claimed that based on his kind will Vyacheslav Borisov returned 15 war hostages from Tskhinvali and 22 from Abkhazia without asking anything in exchange. Resurfacing this old disinformation before the elections intended to renew the fear of war and accuse Georgia of initiating the Russo-Georgia war.

  3. In parallel with a rally demanding the release of Saakashvili on Freedom Square in Tbilisi on October 14th, a photo of a hearse with a picture of Mikheil Saakashvili was circulating on government-affiliated websites, claiming that it depicted the march by Saakashvili’s supporters. In fact, the photo was taken on October 6th, 2016, and depicts Mikheil Saakashvili’s mock funeral organized by Tristan Tsitelashvili’s civil movement “Our Homeland” in front of the US embassy.
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Dzala Simartleshia
Dzala Simartleshia
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