ISFED presented social media monitoring report
On October 26, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) presented interim report of social media monitoring in the context of the 2018 presidential election.
ISFED is the first observer organization in Georgia to conduct methodic pre-election monitoring of social media for elections. The monitoring began on August 29. At this stage, in the context of the presidential election ISFED monitors only Facebook activity since it is especially popular among different social media platforms in Georgia.
The interim report of ISFED focuses on the following four areas:
- Activity of official Facebook pages of presidential candidates, parties that nominated these candidates and official campaign pages, and their compliance with legislation;
- Campaigning by local self-government civil servants on Facebook;
- Monitoring of official Facebook pages of local self-government and Ajara A/R bodies.
- Activity of Facebook pages set up primarily for discreditation purposes, their tactics and main messages;
The monitoring of 19 official pages of presidential candidates, political parties that have nominated/endorsed them and official campaign pages on Facebook, from August 29 to October 9, indicates that their activity entailed advertising election programs, criticizing competitors and publishing election promises. Xenophobic statements and hate speech was detected on Facebook pages of individual candidates (Shalva Natelashvili and Kakha Kukava).
Activity of anonymous Facebook pages operating for the primary purpose of discrediting specific candidates, politically active individuals and ongoing political or legal processes is especially striking. These pages have a well-formulated organized strategy focusing on use of propaganda methods to influence public opinion.
As the pre-election period began, activity and number of pages created to discredit candidates and parties that have nominated/endorsed them grew significantly. Most of their names contain negative and obscene phrases. In addition, posts that these pages publish contain obscene and cynical terms and hate speech. Vast majority of these posts are sponsored, which amounts to illegal contribution to election campaigning.
ISFED found 26 pages that operate to discredit Salome Zurabishvili. Vast majority of these pages have been created following the 2012 parliamentary elections, and up until now their primary targets included Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream and the government policies. After the ruling party announced its support for Salome Zurabishvili in the presidential election, she became the target of the discreditation attempts. Nearly half of Facebook pages operating for the sole purpose of discrediting Salome Zurabishvili were set up in the pre-election period of the 2018 presidential election.
There are 27 pages that operate for the purpose of discrediting Grigol Vashadze and the United National Movement, two-thirds of which were created right before the 2018 presidential election. Several pages were created earlier, in connection to the 2016 parliamentary elections and 2017 local self-government elections. Pages working to discredit Grigol Vashadze also target Mikheil Saakashvili, the UNM and Rustavi 2 TV.
Both Facebook pages targeting Grigol Vashadze and Salome Zurabishvili accuse candidates of advancing Russia’s interests.
There are 7 pages targeting Davit Bakradze and the European Georgia. Their messages are radically different. Some refer to him as the force controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, while others try to make him look like an extension of the United National Movement. Posts on pages operating to discredit Zurab Japaridze and Davit Usupashvili contain anti-liberal and xenophobic phrases and hate speech, directed against political ideology of these candidates.
In addition to discreditation of electoral subjects, vast majority of discrediting pages also aim to undermine political processes, civic activists and opinion leaders. During the pre-election period, campaigns waged against NGOs through anonymous Facebook pages grew into an intensive trend. These campaigns became active following verbal attacks of high-level government officials on observer organizations and their leaders. Amidst government’s aggressive rhetoric, discrediting pages became active and started disseminating or sponsoring obscene, sarcastic and undermining posts against NGO leaders. Photo and video materials published by the discrediting pages suggest use of similar multimedia technologies, indicating that a single organized group can be the source of their creation.
ISFED was monitoring 98 official Facebook pages of municipalities and Ajara A/R bodies. Monitoring did not find misuse of administrative resources on these pages during the pre-election period, which is commendable. The only exception are pages of Ninotsminda Municipality and Tbilisi City Hall, which published Salome Zurabishvili’s campaign materials. ISFED also monitored activity on personal accounts of 664 local civil servants holding different offices across all municipalities. Civil servants were actively engaged in campaigning on social media in favor of the candidate endorsed by the ruling party. The monitoring from August 29 to September 4 found that 42 civil servants employed by 29 municipalities participated in campaigning during working hours, which amounts to violation of the law. 51 civil servants employed by 26 municipalities engaged in campaigning outside of working hours. Civil servants began to actively engage in election campaigning after the Georgian Dream declared its support for Salome Zurabishvili. Monitoring of Facebook pages of civil servants found that sharing of campaign posts by civil servants aimed to support only one candidate – Salome Zurabishvili. Notably, from this point on, civil servants started frequently sharing posts that discredited opposition parties and presidential candidates.
The pilot project of social media monitoring is implemented with support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia. ISFED continues to monitor social media in the election context and it will present subsequent reports after the election.
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