Pro-governmental and Anonymous Actors Run Homophobic Campaign on Social Media
The queer community in Georgia has always been the target of discrimination, violence, and suppression by the alt-right, pro-Russian groups. Alt Info and other pro-Russian groups instrumentalize the sexual minorities to create the image of the enemy of the West. They juxtapose Georgian traditions and nationality on the one hand and the West, liberalism, and the rights of the queer community on the other. To sow antagonism against sexual minorities, they intensively use their own media channels and social media platforms. For instance, pro-Russian groups used Telegram chats to mobilize forces for the July 5 2021 violent pogrom. To gather the counter-demonstration of the Pride event on Lisi Lake, Alt Info also actively used social media platforms this year. The pro-Russian group released the statement and registered the legislative proposal outlawing "LGBT propaganda". Vato Shakarashvili, the leader of the movement Georiga First and MP Phridon Injia, representing the European Socialists Party, welcomed the idea of initiating a similar legislative proposal.
Thus, if earlier alt-right and pro-Russian groups would exclusively run homophobic attitudes, now the government representatives and proxy actors are also engaged. The Georgian Dream representatives, on the one hand, affirm that minority rights should be protected in Georgia, while on the other, they state that "LGBT propaganda and the protection of the LGBT rights should be demarcated".
In recent months, messages related to minority rights insinuate that "LGBT propaganda" has a negative influence on youth. In early May, Georgian Dream representatives insisted that the ruling party was not entertaining the idea of a legislative proposal on minority rights. However, in his annual report at the Parliament, Prime Minister Garibashvili didn't rule out the possibility of imposing legal regulations.
Along with the official statements, the homophobic campaign prevails on social media. Some media channels, anonymously run pages and pro-government actors positioning as independent experts, spread homophobic messages in a coordinated manner. Such posts on media channels and anonymous pages frequently appear sponsored to boost their reach. Similarly, the key propaganda message pertains to the "negative influence of LGBT propaganda" on children. To reinforce the hostility, pro-government actors manipulate the research findings about the queer community and argue that as the LGBT propaganda intensifies, the queer community grows subsequently. To flare up homophobic incentives, pro-government actors orchestrated anti-McDonalds campaigns and hostility against the publishing house Sulakauri. Furthermore, "LBGT propaganda" is frequently connected to the US and the EU to discredit Georgia's Western allies. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy investigated coordinated actions of the pro-government media channels and anonymous pages and found that they mirror the politicians' official homophobic statements.
Homophobic Campaigns on Social Media
"LGBT propaganda's" alleged negative influence on children and the prospects of subsequent legal regulation
In early April, a sponsored post appeared on the pseudo-support page AntiRussian Platform. The post was allegedly shared on behalf of the queer community, while in reality, aimed at instrumentalizing the aggression against them. The statement read that the queers should have a right to marry, and the relevant legislative proposal would be initiated with the support of allied civil society organizations. The anonymous page პოლიტიკური რენტგენი/Political X-ray immediately echoed the post with another sponsored message stating that "the civil society organizations are going to legalize the gay marriage". Posts went viral on social media. In reality, the legalization of gay marriage has never been raised by the queer community, and the information circulated on social media was false. Presumably, raising this issue aimed to spread misinformation to sow aggression against human rights organizations.
Since late April, pro-government media organizations Imedi and POSTV also joined the homophobic campaign. They reported the findings of the research organization Gallup's survey regarding the growth of the queer community in a homophobic context. Their social media posts indicated that 20% of Americans between 18 to 25 identify as queer. The Imedis Kvira report claimed a positive correlation between discussing gender identity with children and the growth of the queer community. The same media report mentioned that the state law in Florida forbids teachers to discuss gender issues with their students. The following media organizations also reported Gallup's research findings: media holding Kvira, Ongo.ge, news portal Mkhare, news agency Info 9, For.ge, and Pia.ge. Facebook pages of TV Imedi and Pia.ge also advertised their posts regarding the research findings.
The representatives of the political group People's Power, formally split from the ruling party, also commented on the topic. They noted that the research finding is the outcome of the modern education system, and the government should be tough and principled to prevent such developments.
In early May, the pseudo-support page Anti-Russian Platform shared another post, stating that the Georgian Dream would "ban LGBT propaganda" and "the queer community would not obey". This post aimed at fomenting hostility against minorities while strengthening the support for the ruling party among those who feel antagonistic toward queers. Indirectly, the post was meant to incite anti-EU sentiments by alluding to the importance of expanding minority rights in the context of Georgia's EU integration.
Later, an MP representing the European Socialists, Phridon Injia, announced that he was considering initiating the draft law outlawing "LGBT propaganda". Mamuka Mdinaradze explained that the ruling party would not support such a law, as "it would simply water radical's mill." He further noted that "unhealthy propaganda should be tackled by the healthy one". In the same period, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, at the alter-conservative conference (Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC) in Budapest, voiced homophobic messages. He stated that Georgians' superpower lies in their faith, family and traditions, and by uniting these forces, "Georgians can resist the evil disguised in the fake liberty and fake truth." Thus, in his speech, he portrayed "LGBT propaganda" and "legalization of gender transition for children" and other minority-related issues, as evil.
In early June, another research finding was publicized to boost the homophobic discourse related to the growth of the queer community in different countries, specifically, a manipulative and unsubstantiated correlation between "LGBT propaganda" and the growth of the queer community. False media page PrimeNews.Ge augmented its post with the photo of Lazare Grigoridis, an activist detained in the aftermath of the March demonstrations. Mamuka Mdinaradze, one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream, also commented on the research findings and maintained that propaganda might be causing the rise of the queer community.
Anti-US and Euroskeptic Messages in the Homophobic Context
In the same period in May, when the Gallup research findings came out, TV Imedi and POSTV shared the information that the European Parliament hosted the queer community exhibition. The news bits were backed up with some photos from the exhibition. The context in which the news was presented and the selection of images attached to it revealed that the publishers' intention was largely homophobic and eurosceptic. One of the photos from Imedi TV's post was actually advertised. Though the post disappeared from social media after some time, the exhibition photos were intensively crossposted by the other pro-government media channels. Member of the movement Georgia First and formerly the Georgian Dream representative at Tbilisi Sakrebulo, Vato Shakarashvili, stated that the exhibition reveals" the real face of the EU".
As soon as the Pride Month kicked off, Facebook pages of the pro-government media channels started sharing the news inciting homophobic sentiments. The news didn't necessarily include openly homophobic messages, though the spirit of the post and the context built around it exposed the intention to discredit the US and Western allies. For instance, news posted on pro-government media pages accentuated that US President Joe Biden celebrated Pride Month, as well as the member of the House and formerly the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attended the queer event. Imedi TV, POSTV and Pia.ge advertised their posts featuring Joe Biden's supportive message to the queer community and transgender children. The page POSTV - ანალიტიკა, presumably for identical homophobic intents, shared a cut of Donald Trump's video address, too.
Simultaneously, anonymous pages shared video footage from the Pride event conducted in San Francisco. In addition, Pro-government experts reported that a group of parents opposed the Pride event at an elementary school in California. Pro-government experts commented that parents concerned with their children's future should be understood and duly supported.
On July 2 2023, the Facebook page of Imedi TV released the video report from its weekly show Imedis Kvira titled "Propaganda Effect on Estonia". The report covered the legalization of queer couple marriage in Estonia, portraying it as the direct effect of "LGBT propaganda".
Discrediting Campaign Against Temur Chkonia, McDonald's and the Bakur Sulakauri Publishing
On June 12, Imedi TV and POSTV Facebook pages broke the news that the McDonald's Happy Meal menu comes with a book telling the story of Elton John's love life. Other pro-government media organizations and anonymous Facebook pages quickly crossposted this info. These posts accused a business owner, Temur Chkonia and his daughter of spreading "LGBT propaganda". Anonymous pages further speculated that Chkonia sponsors opposition media channels, too. Soon, the Facebook page run by the movement of the same name არ აგარევინებთ posted the photo manipulation denouncing Chkonia. It was promptly crossposted by inauthentic accounts in the political Facebook groups connected to the movement.
Journalists and civic activists who supported Chkonia were shamed for their supportive comments. Anonymous pages used homophobic and pejorative language to scold them. Pia.ge advertised the screenshot of users' posts featuring the homophobic posters at McDonald's restaurants.
Members of the movement People's Power also tried to portray businessman Chkonia and his daughter as adversaries of Georgia's national values. Leaders of the Georgian Dream, Mamuka Mdinaradze and Irakli Kobakhidze, accused the company of spreading "LGBT propaganda" among children. Irakli Garibashvili voiced the same accusation on June 30 in his annual parliamentary address.
Publishing House Sulakauri became the target of the homophobic attack, too. In late April, in its TV report, POSTV blamed the publisher for spreading the "LGBT propaganda" among children through its books of tales. Members of the movement of the People's Power reinforced the same accusations.
In mid-June, a couple of Facebook accounts shared the excerpt from Charles Perrault's (the author of the "Little Red Riding Hood") tale, written in the 17th century. The Sulakauri publishing house was blamed for "promoting depravity" by translating and publishing the story. Soon POSTV started broadcasting discrediting video reports, accusing the Publishing House of promoting "perversion" and "LGBT propaganda". The video footage featuring the antagonists who stormed the Sulakauri office to voice the same accusations flooded social media. On June 30, in his parliamentary address, Irakli Garibashvili also denounced the publishing house for "LGBT propaganda".
Anti-Pride Festival Messages
Alt-right, pro-Russian group Alt-Info mobilized people and resources against the July 8th Pride Fest on Lisi Lake via social media channels.
The movement Georgia First openly opposed the Pride Fest. Discrediting Facebook pages connected to the movement, namely არ აგარევინებთ, declared the event as a provocation and called organizers to cancel the event. The post bragged that "the Pride will never happen in Georgia". Later, the same page shared a post about the Lisi Lake hosting the Pride Fest. Vato Shakarashvili's official page crossposted the same content. All three posts are being advertised on Facebook.
It has been long time since Russia has used queer rights to spread disinformation, amplify propaganda and incite anti-Western sentiments among the Georgian public. Pro-Kremlin alt-right groups have always been involved in homophobic campaigns. However, lately, some representatives of the ruling party and their proxy actors also became involved in such campaigns. This undermines the condition of human rights, especially challenges minorities in Georgia. The Georgian government is directly responsible for ensuring that the minority, namely LGBT rights, are protected, especially in the context of fulfilling 12 recommendations on the pathway to Georgia's EU integration. Spreading the homophobic narrative might inflame aggression against minorities and sow scepticism against strategic partners. Thus, it is crucial that government representatives alter their public discourse, while the anonymous homophobic campaigns in social media seize to pollute the information space.
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