Election Campaigning on Social Media for the 2020-2021 elections in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti
Findings from the ongoing monitoring of social media in the 2018-2021 general national elections indicate that political parties and anonymous internal and external actors are making every effort to influence voter behavior and attitudes. Reproduction of manipulative information by harmful actors using social media threatens the informed choice of citizens. This threat can be one of the most serious challenges in face of the scarcity of civic, political and social inclusion of ethnic minorities.
According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia (GeoStat), 86.8 percent of the Georgian population is Georgian, 6.3 percent is Azerbaijani, and 4.5 percent is Armenian. According to the CEC, 348 polling stations have been established in the regions densely populated by ethnic minorities, namely: Georgian-Azerbaijani - 211 polling stations; Georgian-Armenian - 133 polling stations; Georgian-Armenian-Azerbaijani - 4 polling stations.
According to the Strategy Document of the Government of Georgia on the Approval of the Strategy for the Development of Mountainous Settlements of Georgia for 2019-2023, the mountainous settlements of Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions are characterized by densely populated ethnic minorities whose level of information is low due to the their poor national language skills.
According to a 2019 study by the Institute for Social Research and Analysis and the Open Society Georgia Foundation, the media play an important role in the political involvement of ethnic minorities, which is one of the main tools in the relationship between the population and government / local government / political parties. The same research confirms that the main source of information for ethnic minorities about the current events in Georgia is Georgian television channels.
According to the CRRC's Annual survey on Socio-Economic and Political Attitudes, conducted in December 2020, 61% of ethnic Armenians and 86% of ethnic Azerbaijanis surveyed use the Internet daily. In terms of the rate of active use of the Internet, the use of effective strategic communications by the state in areas populated by ethnic minorities, increasing media literacy and strengthening online navigation skills are of particular importance. Transforming social media into one of the main media outlets can be used as an effective means of social, cultural and political integration of ethnic minorities. However, if the state's efforts to enhance the above-mentioned characteristics of the local population are insufficient, these news medias may, on the contrary, play a negative role and contribute to the fragmentation and alienation of society through the intervention of internal or external harmful actors.
The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy conducts traditional election monitoring throughout Georgia, including in regions populated by ethnic minorities. As part of its monitoring of social media for the 2020 parliamentary elections, the organization has also launched experimental social media monitoring in two ethnic minority regions, namely Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli, in response to the challenges described above. The monitoring aimed to identify trends in the use of social media platforms for political purposes and to identify the main messages that were relevant during the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 local elections and aimed at influencing voter behavior and attitudes in these regions.