Russian Propaganda Information Front in Georgian Language on Telegram
In addition to invading Ukraine and unleashing war, Russia is also waging an active information war on social media. Pro-Russian propaganda activity is observed in Georgia as well, especially on Telegram, which is used to spread the news about the war every minute. After Georgia's most popular social media platform, Facebook, shut down radical and violent groups as part of its crackdown on disinformation and information manipulation, these very same actors have become increasingly active on Telegram and Tik-Tok which in a way has become their alternative. Radical groups first used Telegram to organize violent protests on July 2-5, 2021, and actively called on supporters to join to their Telegram channels. Based on ISFED’s observation, in parallel with the war waged by Russia, Georgian-language channels operating on Telegram broadcasted pro-Russian, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian messages. Some of the active channels are connected to Alt-Info.
ISFED observed the tactics and messages used by pro-Russian actors on Telegram. The report analyzes the main messages of the channels during the second half of March and April, in parallel with the Russia-Ukraine war.
Pro-Russian channels operating on Telegram
According to ISFED, 9 channels are active on Telegram regarding the war waged by Russia in Ukraine [cf. Appendix N1]. The total number of their followers is 39,835, of which about 81% come from two Alt-Info channels - Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო and Alt-Info News. „TV-კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator) is an openly affiliated channel with Alt-Info, while „მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა“ (World Politics) has spread positive messages about Alt-Info. On the main page of the pro-Russian group a non-standard tendency to increase the number of subscribers was noticed, which may indicate an attempt to artificially attract subscribers and create artificially high interaction. In particular, on May 9, 2022, Alt-Info News gained 14,712 followers in one day, while the increase in followers on other days of the same month was mostly 0. Alt-Info gained 4,352 subscribers on May 5 and 3,830 subscribers on May 6, compared to other days which peaked at 22 new subscribers. Also, on the "Alt-Info" channel on May 5, subscriber gain was increased hourly, for example, at 2 and 3 o'clock at night, and the activity during other hours was small or non-existent.
* Increase in subscribers to Alt-info News and Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო in May. Source: Tgstat.com
*The hourly increase of subscribers on the channel "Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო" on May 5 and 6. Source: Tgstat.com.
Along with them, the channel "BeqaNews" run by the ultra-right activist Beka Vardosanidze and the channel "Society for the Protection of Children's Rights" related to Alexander Palavandishvili are operating on Telegram.
ISFED monitored telegram channels through the social media monitoring tools Tgstat.com and Popsters.com. The most interacted posts used in the report, covering the period from late March to April, are collected through monitoring tools. Quantitative information includes channel statistics from the day they were created and is collected through Tgstat.com.
It should be noted that according to the monitoring tool, the channels are interconnected. Separate channels refer to each other in posts or share each other's posts [cf. Appendix N2].
Messages against Ukraine
Alt-Info and Beka Vardosanidze's Telegram channels accused Ukrainian soldiers of violence. Among them were allegations of Ukrainian Defense Forces raiding a church and kidnapping a priest, raping women, torturing Russian servicemen and shooting civilians. Particular attention is paid to the Azov Battalion, which is accused of opening fire on civilians and insulting the families of fallen Russian soldiers.
Image 1 - TheRussians captured a Ukrainian soldier which told how he raped a woman in Mariupol at gunpoint in front of her husband and then proceeded to kill the husband;
Image 2 - Japanese journalists have published a short recording of a Polish military correspondent in which they repeatedly ask a girl from Mariupol who shot at the civilians. The girl repeatedly replied: "Azov is shooting at civilians, the Russians are not shooting at the civilian population."
Image 3 - Captive Ukrainian soldiers speak of unpreparedness and dilettantism in the Ukrainian army. They said that they didn’t have any real commanders, they were commanded by lieutenants who didn’t even know how to hold a machine gun properly.
Telegram channels related to Alt-Info sought to portray the Ukrainian army as unprepared and to cover reports of the capture, defeat, or destruction of Ukrainian military units.
Posts against the Ukrainian government, including those of Volodymyr Zelensky, were found on Telegram channels. On April 3, BeqaNews published an article written by kvira.ge accusing Zelensky of having the option to avoid a war with the Russian Federation, but refusing to do so. An article on the Alt-Info channel TV Conservator was published in which Zelensky was presented as one of the main obstacles to achieving peace. Beka Vardosanidze also spread a falsified propaganda video on Telegram, in which Zelenski is accused of drug use. According to the Myth Detector, cocaine and a bank card were digitally added to the video of Zelensky and Musk talking.
Alt-Info was spreading discrediting messages on their Telegram channels, that were aimed at the Ukrainian government. In particular, the authorities were accused of knowing in advance about the threat of an attack, however they did not evacuate the population. Source: „BeqaNews“, Telegram.
The Telegram channels BeqaNews, TV Conservator and Alt-Info News sought to question the Bucha tragedy and reported that Western leaders were questioning the credibility of the Ukrainian version of what had happened. Beka Vardosanidze wrote on his Telegram channel that the Ukrainian government calls on Georgia to open a second front.
(Image 1 – “This is how the Polish treat Ukrainian fascist slogans”; Image 2 - Why doesn’t TV Imedi and and Georgian Nazi Telecompanies show this footage? Protests against Ukrainians started in Italy, people are calling them Nazis. The LGBT community also started to protest against them). Source: „TV კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator) , Telegram. Source: „მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა“ (World Politics), Telegram.
Anti-Ukraine messages were spread on Telegram. In particular, the channels "ბავშვთა უფლებების დაცვის საზოგადოება” (Child Rights Protection Society), "მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა” (World Politics), and "TV კონსერვატორი” (TV Conservator) reported that the Ukrainians who came to Europe were opposed by the locals, they also called them Nazis. Alt-Info channels also published footage of physical violence against people by Ukrainian locals.
Telegram channels broadcast anti-NATO, anti-US and Eurosceptic messages. Alt-Info reported that Ukraine's membership in NATO is not on the Alliance's agenda and NATO is not ready to ensure Ukraine's security. In addition, the Telegram channels „️სინათლის ძალა / Power Of Light, "ბავშვთა უფლებების დაცვის საზოგადოება” (Child Rights Protection Society) and BeqaNews have suggested that the West and the United States have a interest in prolonging the Ukraine war, which is why they are supplying weapons to Ukraine, although they do not intend to take part.
( Image – Don’t you question why Zelenski is given weapons that will only prolong the war? Why aren’t they giving him airplanes and tanks? Which will genuinely tip the scales in favor of Ukraine?).
Source: „BeqaNews“, Telegram.
The Telegram channel "მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა“ (World Politics) accused Europeans of xenophobia and physical abuse against Russians.
In parallel with the Anti-Western and Ukrainian messages, pro-Russian messages and news were also spread on Telegram channels. Alt-Info provided users of the Telegram channel with information about the humanitarian corridors organized by the Russian side and their effectiveness. In addition, posts were published aimed at demonstrating the superiority of the Russian army. The Telegram channels also aimed to portray the actions of the Russian army in a humane way. For example, "ბავშვთა უფლებების დაცვის საზოგადოება” (Child Rights Protection Society ) reported that casualties among the civilian population in Ukraine were accidental and that Russia was deliberately bombing only military and industrial facilities.
(Image – Over 100 Mariupol civilians escaped through the Azovstal humanitarian corridor. They were escorted from the surroundings of the factory through the green corridor organized by the Russian side. The people said that they were struggling without food, water and medicine and thanked the Russian military). Source: „Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო“, Telegram
Part of the channels also spoke about the importance for dialogue and cooperation with Russia. A post was published on "ბავშვთა უფლებების დაცვის საზოგადოება” (Child Rights Protection Society ) about the threat of Tskhinvali joining Russia and entering into negotiations with them. The post said that if Russia sees that strengthening Georgia is a precondition for their weakening, Georgia may lose its statehood and the nation may be destroyed.
Source: „TV კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator) , Telegram.
"მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა” (World Politics) wrote about the improvement of Russia-Georgia economic relations and the opening of visa-free travel.
„TV კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator) published a story about Alt-Info shared by the Russian channel RU МИГ. The post said that as it turned out, there are forces in Georgia that not only support peaceful relations and good neighborliness with Russia, but also categorically oppose Georgia's accession to NATO.
Also, a post was published on the „თავისუფალი არხი“ (Free Channel) accusing the Georgian people of fighting against Russian tourists.The channel was also sharing information about “McDonald’s” reopening in Russia.
In parallel with foreign policy, the domestic policy agenda was topical on Beka Vardosanidze and Alt-Info telegram channels. Beka Vardosanidze was harassing the leader of the United National Movement, Giorgi Baramidze, while he was in Ukraine. "მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა” (World Politics) accused the United National Movement of wanting to involve Georgia in the war. „TV კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator), accused a United National Movement supporter of torturing and killing Russians.
(Image 2 – “A Saakashvili supporter who tortured and killed a Russian paratrooper, watch until the end, you can view the full video here – Link)
Source: „BeqaNews“, Telegram. Source: „TV კონსერვატორი“ (TV Conservator), Telegram.
Alt-Info and its affiliated groups, as well as other pro-Russian actors, are spreading anti-Western, pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian messages in an attempt to intensify polarization of values in society.
With the strengthening of pro-Russian actors on Telegram in Georgia, the problem of transparency remains one of the main challenges in conducting an observation. Existing monitoring tools are less effective in finding and detecting new channels. Also, there’s the challenge of artificially gained followers on Alt-Info channels.
With that in mind, it is important to analyze the scale and consequences of the actions of pro-Russian actors on the telegram as part of Russia's information operation in Georgia in the context of state security.
Social Media Monitoring Program of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy 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.
 ISFED, Tiktok - A New Propaganda Ecosystem, 2022. https://isfed.ge/geo/angarishebi/tiktoti-propagandis-akhali-ekosistema