“Ar Agarevinebt” and “Agentura” - a new coordinated network connected to Vato Shakarashvili
While Georgia awaits the candidate country status in the European Union and contends with the ongoing war in Ukraine, there has been a notable surge in the dissemination of anti-Western narratives within Georgia's information space. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), regularly monitors both domestic and foreign actors sowing anti-Western sentiments and fostering Euroskeptic attitudes among the Georgian populace. In August 2022, ISFED investigated the operation of the home-grown network of Gia Gachechiladze’s (Utsnobi) movement “Ai Iasa” and associated coordinated network “Ar Agarevinebt”, engaged in the anti-Western campaign. One of the central figures in this network was its co-founder, Vato Shakarashvili, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric. The network’s Facebook pages, scrutinized by ISFED, appeared to have a collective goal of blaming the West for dragging Georgia into the war. It was observed that the network violated the terms and conditions of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, by employing inauthentic accounts to disseminate posts within various groups and artificially boost interactions. Later, it came to light that one of the pages of the network, had faced restrictions, and its reach was limited, presumably as a result of these violations.
In November 2022, Vato Shakarishvili, together with other figures, created the web portal “Georgia First”, which serves as a platform opposing liberal values and the individuals associated with these values. ISFED discovered that apart from this portal and official accounts, there are two discrediting social media pages operating lately. One of these, named "Ar Agarevinebt," has explicit ties to Shakarishvili, while another page called "Agentura" operates anonymously. ISFED's investigation has revealed a connection between "Agentura" and Vato Shakarishvili. These actors are engaged in a coordinated inauthentic behavior campaign, utilizing the same inauthentic accounts to disseminate posts, thereby violating Meta's rules. A significant number of the posts on these discrediting pages are promoted, though the available information is insufficient to identify the party responsible for funding these efforts. The network primarily targets the US and various internal opposition actors. Interestingly, most of their posts support the policy of Irakli Gharibashvili, Georgia’s Prime Minister. This document by ISFED outlines the key findings from its investigation into this network.
Accounts Connected to the Portal “Georgia First” and Vato Shakarishvili
There are 3 Facebook pages and Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and Telegram accounts explicitly connected to the portal “Georgia First” (geo-first.com) and Vato Shakarishvili.
ISFED uncovered two Facebook pages of the anti-Western network, employing discrediting tactics: “Ar Agarevinebt” and “Agentura”. Notably, these names are also used for TikTok accounts, and there are corresponding Telegram and YouTube channels under the name "Ar Agarevinebt." On these platforms, the content largely mirrors what is distributed on Facebook.
One of the Facebook pages, "Ar Agarevinebt," is directly associated with Vato Shakarishvili's team but adopts the strategy of an anti-opposition, opposition-discrediting page. This particular page disseminates manipulated images and employs hate speech messages to undermine the credibility of various media outlets, civil society organizations, and activists. It's worth noting that many of its posts are promoted to increase their reach. Additionally, channels under the same name are active on TikTok, YouTube, and Telegram, indicating a concerted effort to spread their messaging across multiple platforms.
Interestingly, this page on Facebook came into activity after the older one with the same name had its operations restricted. Through the use of Meta's monitoring tool, CrowdTangle, it has been verified that the discrediting page has clear connections to official accounts. The "Ar Agarevinebt" page utilizes the crossposting feature with Vato Shakarishvili and other pages affiliated with the conservative platform. Notably, to be able to use a crossposting1 feature, allowing simultaneous video posts, administrators of the two pages must be connected to each other.
Another anonymous page, named “Agentura” is covertly connected to Vato Shakarishvili. Created on February 17, 2023, it was initially named “Saqartvelos Arkivi” (Georgia’s Archive) but was renamed later, on July 6. The information available at Meta’s Ads Library proves the connection between the page and Shakarishvili. Notably, the same telephone number is provided for the payer of “Agentura’s” ads and Vato Shakarishvili’s official page, as well as for „Georgia First NEWS”, further emphasizing the ties between these entities.
Accounts Operation in Groups
Much like the previously operating network, the new one associated with Vato Shakarishvili, exhibits coordinated inauthentic behavior. Specifically, certain accounts regularly share posts from the network's pages within related Facebook groups. Some of these accounts are unverifiable, and their activities violate Meta rules.
One of these accounts, Ketevan Tsetskhaldze, consistently shares the posts from the network pages and disseminates them in Facebook groups. These pages include „Vato Shakarishvili • ვატო შაქარიშვილი”, „Ar Agarevinebt”, „Agentura”, „Georgia First NEWS”, „საქართველო უპირველეს ყოვლისა • Georgia First”. Profile investigation does not confirm its authenticity. It appears that the account owner is deliberately concealing their identity, and their stated location is Batumi. The majority of posts in Vato Shakarishvili's network consist of pro-government and anti-opposition content, dominating the account's news feed.
Another presumably inauthentic account, systematically disseminating posts in the same groups, operates under the account name Juba Gogonashvili. Despite not making any public posts since 2022, this account actively shares content from 'Ar Agarevinebt' in various Facebook groups. Furthermore, yet another inauthentic account, named Gia Berianidze is also actively sharing the posts of “Ar Agarevinebt” and „აი უცნობი • i ucnobi”.
Facebook user Gabi Kamaev, positioning himself as a blogger, has been noticed amplifying pro-Georgian Dream content within the network. Kamaev primarily shares these posts in three Facebook groups: „Kakha Kaladze - Georgian Dream”, „Batumi • 41 ????” and „Batumi City Assembly”. Notably, Kamaev’s posts are often shared by the inauthentic account named Ketevan Tsetskhaldze, mentioned above.
Advertisements on Facebook and Instagram
To boost its reach and widen the audience, the network associated with Vato Shakarishvili is actively employing an advertisement feature. Though official pages transparently declare payers’ identity, discrediting pages' political content is advertised nontransparently. For example, the page “Ar Agarevinebt” indicates the same name as the payer and additional information does not help to confirm the identity. The same issue stands relevant in the case of another page “Agentura” - the payer's name is similar to the page name. However, exploring the data in Ads Library reveals that there is the same contract number indicated for both advertisements as in the case of both Facebook pages, associated with Vato Shakarishvili.
The page "Agentura," anonymously linked to the network, frequently sponsors its posts. According to Meta’s Ads Library, between February and October 2, 2023, the page published 80 advertisements, with a total expenditure of USD 796. The payer's name matches the page name - "Agentura". Similarly, posts from the page "Ar Agarevinebt" are also non-transparently sponsored, with the payer's name aligning with the page name. From November 8, 2022, to October 2, 2023, the page published 256 advertisements, totaling USD 3,390 in expenses.
The network associated with Vato Shakarishvili has been actively spreading pro-governmental messages. Posts supporting Irakli Gharibashvili are shared intensively. In particular, content featuring the Prime Minister’s policy initiatives and foreign visits is published and shared earnestly.
Pro-government network actors have been actively sharing content that supports Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili while simultaneously criticizing the opposition. After the news broke about Irakli Gharibashvili's personal use of a plane, the page 'Ar Agarevinebt' issued a special statement. This statement insinuated that the recent scandal involving Gharibashvili's use of a plane for personal purposes was instigated by supporters of the United National Movement, driven by a desire for revenge.
The pro-government pages are placing significant emphasis on Gharibashvili's role in receiving the status of the EU membership candidate country. They highlight key events, promoting the photo of a joint press conference of Gharibashvili and Joseph Borelli, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. These posts also accuse opposition political parties of deliberately sabotaging Georgia's EU integration.
Moreover, the scrutinized pages of the network, publish anti-opposition posts, discrediting opposition figures, such as Mikheil Saakashvili, levan Khabeishvili, Nika Melia, and Giorgi Vashadze. Saakashvili’s personal life has been the centerpiece of discrediting efforts. Additionally, the pages have targeted electoral alliances “Droa” and “Gichi - More Freedom,” disseminating posts aimed at degrading their reputation.
Alongside opposition political figures, President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili has become another target of discrediting efforts by Vato Shakarishvili's network. The published posts primarily focus on justifying the launch of the president's impeachment procedure. These posts promote the narrative that Zurabishvili betrayed her constituents and attempted to spur political instability.
Vato Shakarishvili's network echoed the State Security Service of Georgia's (SSSG) statement on expected political destabilization and civic unrest, which was released on September 18 of the current year. The network's pages published posts featuring events reminiscent of Maidan and highlighted key figures mentioned in the SSSG statement. These posts insinuated that the “Global War Party” and its local agents were plotting a coup. Notably, alongside the United National Movement and other opposition political parties, physician Gia Dvali and former Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria were also named as local agents of the 'Global War Party.' Furthermore, Vato Shakarishvili issued a statement accusing the West, particularly the US, of having interests in instigating political instability in Georgia."
The scrutinized pages of the network also shared another statement from the State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG), claiming that a USAID-funded program by the East-West Management Institute invited Serbian trainers to instruct Georgian participants on toppling the government using violent means. This allegation was followed by anti-American messages, and Vato Shakarishvili's post circulated widely on social media. He pointed out that the statement from the US embassy represented the beginning of an open confrontation against Georgia.
In addition to the examples provided above, Vato Shakarishvili's network has been spreading other anti-Western narratives too. They accuse the West of interfering in Georgia’s domestic affairs, specifically alleging that the United States and Western countries have the goal of bringing Mikheil Saakashvili and the United National Movement to power. They also accuse the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of making empty promises regarding Georgia's membership in the alliance.
Among anti-Western messages spread by the network pages, one can also find the US president discrediting content too. On September 3, the Page „Georgia First NEWS“published a ￼post authored by David Kartvelishvili, a member of “People’s Power”, in which he discussed the recently-appointed U.S. ambassador to Georgia. In addition to criticizing Kelly Degnan, Kartvelishvili delved into Robin Dunnigan's biography and her connections with Ukraine and Eastern European countries, noting that the available information “does not bring optimism on her candidacy.”
Furthermore, within the Vato Shakarishvili network, posts referencing the ongoing war in Ukraine were also circulated, claiming that the United States may no longer be able to provide financial support to Ukraine, potentially leading to the deportation of Ukrainians from the European Union. Additionally, certain posts were disseminated to discredit Volodymyr Zelenskyy, insinuating that Ukraine lacks adequate military forces on the front lines and citizens trying to avoid military service resort to corrupt methods. These posts also actively promote forecasts of Ukraine's potential defeat.
On September 21, the page „საქართველო უპირველეს ყოვლისა • Georgia First“ spread the photos of Georgian soldiers, serving in Ukraine, suggesting that they propose an initiative to attack Abkhazia. Additionally, the same page disseminated manipulated information, falsely claiming that Ukrainian police had killed a Georgian man during mobilization efforts.
Publication of this document is made possible by the support from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The sole responsibility for the content of this article lies with the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the donor’s position.