Another anti-Western campaign on Facebook in the name of "progressive conservatism"
On May 17, 2023, a page called "Progressive Conservatism," which uses anti-liberal, including homophobic, messages to incite anti-Western sentiments, was created on Facebook. This page periodically publishes short videos in which people posing as bloggers spread an anti-Western narrative. The page also uses the method of advertising posts to spread messages, however, the ads are published in violation of "Meta" rules, and the payer's identity is not specified.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 and in parallel with Georgia's expectation of EU membership candidate status, anti-Western messages in Georgia have become particularly strong. Until now, it was mainly the ultra-right and pro-Russian groups that spread such propaganda; now, even the majority members do not avoid spreading messages against their strategic partners. In particular, people loyal to the government, positioned as experts, current or former members of the ruling team, and other actors related to the ruling team are involved in the information campaign.
In August 2020, "International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy" (ISFED) revealed a network associated with the movement founded by Giorgi (Gia) Gachechiladze ("Utsnobi") on social media platforms, which was trying to promote anti-Western messages through various pages and inauthentic accounts.
According to the last year's research of "ISFED," the representatives of the public movement "People's Power" formally separated from the ruling party, pro-government experts and well-known faces to the public, as well as the presenters of "POSTV" were distinguished by anti-Western statements, which were partly shared by the leaders of "Georgian Dream" or they did not explicitly divest
ISFED regularly monitors social networks to detect propaganda information operations and periodically publishes monitoring results. This time, a page called "Progressive Conservatism" created on May 17, 2023, uses anti-liberal messages to incite anti-Western sentiments, and local government representatives and civil servants are actively involved in their dissemination.
Messages spread on the "Progressive Conservatism" page
On the page of "Progressive Conservatism," 5 short videos were published by the end of May, through which mainly anti-Western, anti-liberal, and homophobic messages are spread.
In the videos published on the page, it is noted that in the modern west - the USA and Europe - "sexual minorities dominate," there is a "dictatorship of minorities" and "liberal censorship," which prohibits people from expressing a different opinion. In the published materials, a particular emphasis is placed on the United States of America (USA).
In particular, one of the videos mentions that "LGBT propaganda is a part of state propaganda" in the USA, because the country's president, Joe Biden, released a statement supporting transgender Americans.
Progressive Conservatism: "How LGBT propaganda works."
Progressive Conservatism: "Dictatorship of minorities."
In order to make homophobic messages more intensive, children are also appealed to in the videos. For example, attention is drawn to the fact that transgender people meet young students in the US. The page also spreads information that in one of the schools in the state of Pennsylvania, Christian values are being replaced by the model of "uncontrolled freedom" in the name of the "Satanic Club." In the video they spread information that in schools children are talked about queer couples' marriage and abortion, in the name of liberalism.
Progressive Conservatism: "Satanic teaching in American Schools."
It is also said that people in the USA and European countries are dissatisfied with political correctness, as a result of which nationalist forces are coming to power. Donald Trump is also named among them.
The page spreads the message that the US uses the Hollywood film industry to spread "propaganda against sexual minorities." Also, they emphasize that the US film industry is confronting the institution of traditional family and Christian values. In particular, it is noted that in Hollywood products, female characters are increasingly created with the ideology of liberal feminism, while heroes with Christian morals are presented in a negative context.
Progressive Conservatism: "LGBT propaganda in the series "The Last of Us""
Progressive Conservatism: "How Hollywood creates the liberal agenda."
With homophobic messages, together with the west, the civic organizations operating in Georgia are discredited, which work for the rights of minorities. The organizations and activists mentioned on the page are accused of imposing censorship on the topic of minorities and trying to suppress the opposite opinion.
Profiles involved in the distribution of posts
As a result of the analysis of the posts of the "Progressive Conservatism" page, as well as the workplace indicated on the personal accounts of the sharers and the official websites of the municipal bodies, it was revealed that the "Georgian Dream" representatives in the local councils, members of the party's local organization and individual civil servants are among the people spreading the posts. They share the videos from the page publicly on their profiles.
Among the sharers of the above-mentioned posts, members of the municipal councils from the "Georgian Dream" faction are more often found, and in some cases even the deputy mayors and assistants. In particular, we are talking about the chairmen of the city councils, the chairmen of the faction and commissions, their deputies and other members of the city councils. As a result of the observation, it was revealed that the members of the Sakrebulo were from the following municipalities: Borjomi, Tkibuli, Lentekhi, Tskaltubo, Ninotsminda, Sagarejo, Terjola, Sachkhere, Adigeni, Zestafoni, Aspindza, Lagodekhi, Gori, Kaspi, Khelvachauri, Tsageri, Baghdati, Ozurgeti, Tetritskaro.
As a result of the observation, it was found that among the sharers of the first three published posts there are people being employed in the municipalities' town halls, including the representatives of the town halls of Terjola and Gardabani municipalities in the administrative units; Heads of services and departments of Aspindza, Terjola, Adigeni, Chiatura, Kutaisi, Tetritskaro town halls. Among the sharers there were several employees of N(N)Les of some municipalities and educational resource centers.
In addition to employees of budgetary organizations and people openly connected to the ruling party, ISFED found 33 suspicious/fake accounts and 1 Facebook page (Annex 1), which were distributing posts in a coordinated manner in a short period of time.
(Screenshots of Nini Abashidze's and Likuna Shelia's profiles)
In particular, the accounts shared the two posts on May 22, mostly between 21:51 and 22:11, often even sharing times coinciding with each other. The posts shared by the accounts on their profiles are identical, shared almost simultaneously, and have content supporting "Georgian Dream." It can be assumed that a single source manages this network of suspicious accounts. Its purpose is to increase the interaction of the desired posts artificially and/or to distribute the messages of the desired propaganda content in a coordinated manner. It should be noted that suspicious accounts have each other as friends. After examining these accounts, it was found that some have taken photos of other people from different websites. The posts have also been shared in a short time by several newly created dubious accounts, hiding their identities. Like in the previous case, the posts they share contain useful messages for the ruling party.
(Screenshot of Nini Nini's profile)
(Screenshot of Tamar Charkviani's profile)
Along with sharing of posts by profiles, the page also uses the method of advertising posts to spread the published videos, however, in violation of the rules established by the company "Meta". According to "Meta" rules, ads with political content in the library must indicate the customer's identity, the so-called "disclaimer" and contact information. However, posts on the page were advertised without mentioned information.
(Screenshot of ads)
According to the results of the monitoring, the involvement of representatives of the ruling party of Georgia in spreading anti-Western and homophobic messages in the name of "progressive conservatism" can be seen. Although the format of the videos and the voice of the messages in them by real people gives the illusion of the transparency of the actors, the main acting actor is seemingly invisible to the Facebook user. The possible connection of the ruling party and/or its members with the information campaign against the country's strategic partner states is against the state's declared goal and objectives regarding the integration of Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic space. Using fake accounts to artificially increase interaction in the campaign process and publishing without the identity of the advertiser is against the rules of the Meta company.