ISFED Recommendations to Counter New Propaganda Threats
Since 2018, ISFED has been monitoring political activities on social networks and studying information campaigns on social media platforms. Over the years, the strategies of active actors are changing, adapting to certain limitations, new circumstances and challenges. During the last three elections in the country, political entities or persons acting in their favor used the resource of anonymous accounts (pages, groups, profiles) on social networks, especially on Facebook, and conducted a negative campaign using them. Along with managing multiple pages/accounts, politically motivated actors also spent significant amounts of money on Facebook ads. Over the last few years, the widespread discrediting campaigns on social media have likely contributed to the emotional polarization of society and the incitement of hatred towards those with opposing political views.
Against the background of the changes in the international situation, the trends in the spread of propaganda messages in Georgia have also changed. Previously anonymous pages were used to broadcast messages, now a group of parliamentary deputies (‘People's Power’) separated from the ruling party Georgian Dream and people affiliate with them are working undisclosed, confronting the West. Attacks were also intensified against the NGO sector and the media critical of the government.
It should be noted that the representatives of Georgian Dream, with whom the given deputies still represent the parliamentary majority, do not distance themselves from the statements of ‘People's Power’, sometimes spreading identical messages. At the same time, the communications department of the ruling party manages the page on Facebook "სინამდვილეში”(In reality), which, according to the page's description, serves to respond to disinformation related to political processes. The page targets representatives of the civil sector, media critical of the government and members of opposition parties and evaluates their statements. At the same time, it does not respond to the disinformation messages of anti-Western content spread by the actors mentioned above.
Moreover, new social networks such as TikTok and Telegram have gained popularity in Georgia, in line with world tendencies. Some of the pro-Russian and anti-Western forces, including Alt-Info and members of the “ai-ia” movement, have also shifted to these platforms and using them to conduct an anti-Western disinformation campaigns. A public group (chat) on the platform has been created by Alt-Info and an account related to Utsnobi. These actors take advantage of Telegram's encrypted communication function, which poses a challenge to organizations working on social media monitoring to combat disinformation.
Based on the current situation, the state faces a new challenge of disinformation flow. Among them, public support for the pro-European course of the country may be at risk, which is especially important during the period of waiting for the EU candidate status. ISFED is presenting recommendations aimed at protecting public opinion from manipulation. Some of them have been expressed by the organization before, but no changes have been made.
To State institutions:
- Strategic communications department - to run a large-scale information campaign in support of the EU and promote awareness of the 12-point recommendations. At the same time, work on confronting the disinformation, anti-Western narratives and make an increased effort to strengthen the trust and support of the strategic partner states in society;
- Continuously cooperate with the organizations working on the issue and timely take the necessary measures corresponding to the challenges.
To Political parties:
- Political forces should use social media platforms transparently to share their views with the public. Refuse to engage in polarization-intensifying, opponent-defaming campaigns and refrain from covert activities;
- Refrain as much as possible from using propaganda methods, instilling irrational fears in society and manipulating public opinion;
- Political parties with a declared pro-European course, especially including the ruling party, should use existing resources to expose anti-Western, disinformation-spreading forces and messages in the country;
- When publishing political ads on Facebook, fully follow the declaration rules.
To Social media platforms (Messaging apps):
- Such platforms should give greater access to research organizations to effectively study the messages and tactics spread and expose misleading, malicious operations, without jeopardizing the privacy principle of a messenger as a whole;
- Messenger-applications should cooperate with organizations working on the issue and take into account the actions of those actors who clearly spread disinformation and probably resort to artificial ways of increasing the audience. And to stop their actions in case of detecting any danger. In particular, to pay attention to those actors who were already exposed in the production of information manipulations on Facebook;
- During the election period, they should form a working group focused on Georgia or work closely with local organizations that will provide them with updated information about harmful groups and information campaigns. Based on the information, take measures to prevent the spread of disinformation messages.
To the election administration:
Based on the existing experience, the non-election period should be used to establish the practice of effective regulation
 ISFED RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RUNNING POLITICAL ADS ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS, ISFED, 2021 https://isfed.ge/geo/sotsialuri-mediis-monitoringi/ISFED-is-rekomendatsiebi-sotsialuri-mediis-platformebis-saarchevno-protsesebshi-gamokenebis-shesakheb
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.