Pro-government trolls in Georgia take to Twitter, researchers say
Georgian social media users, who tried to post anti-Western and pro-government propaganda on Facebook and were caught by the Facebook administration working with the Georgian authorities and removed from the network, have now moved to Twitter, where they have created suspicious accounts, says Eto Buziashvili, a researcher at the Digital Forensics Laboratory (DFRLab) with Atlantic Council of Georgia.
These accounts cropped up just in time for the parliamentary elections in Georgia, scheduled for October 2020. Now they are attacking foreign politicians who are criticizing the Georgian government, and are also trying to present the current situation in Georgia in a positive light, while at the same time accusing the opposition of artificially aggravating the situation.
The most popular social media site in Georgia is Facebook. Only 10% of the population uses Twitter, which is why these troll accounts have not been active on social media before. Nevertheless, Twitter is very popular among American and European politicians who most often express their opinions on this platform.
US politicians and European officials have expressed concern about the current political situation in Georgia on Twitter. In particular, they criticized the Georgian authorities for not fulfilling their promise of implementing democratic reforms and for committing violence against peaceful demonstrators.
Spring cleaning – Facebook deletes hundreds of ‘inauthentic’ political pages, accounts in Georgia
Facebook has deleted hundreds of pages related to the ruling party and the opposition
They also actively discussed Facebook’s decision to remove the fake accounts associated with the ruling Georgian Dream party.
But the anti-Western and pro-government actors have moved to new territory: now their sights are on European and American politicians who criticize the Georgian government. Among them was Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.
Activating Georgian Twitter Accounts
On January 21, the American congressman and chairman of the Group of Friends of Georgia Adam Kinzinger expressed his concern on Twitter about the “political targeting” of the Georgian government and the “declining economic trend” in Georgia. He noted that a bipartisan group of congress members had sent a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
Soon after the tweet was published, people with Georgian usernames began to accuse the congressman of meddling in Georgia’s internal affairs and attitude towards opposition parties.
One of the accounts posted tweets under the username Bakar (Beka) Vardosanidze, who, according to a study by the Media Development Fund (MDF), is a member of the nationalist anti-liberal Georgian March organization and is known for its anti-liberal statements and the use of hate speech.
Kinzinger was criticized by users whose accounts had been created in January 2020.
One of the accounts, @ Pikria99437631, had only written three tweets, all of them criticizing Kinzinger.
Another account, @ ninonin56919210, posted mainly anti-opposition and pro-government content.
After this interaction on Twitter, Kinsinger Vardosanidze wrote that he will become even more active on the platform. His account was created in 2010, but he only started posting actively in 2020.
According to a DFRLab review, the Twitter analytics tool Tweetbeaver detected dozens of suspicious Twitter accounts. Most of them were created in January and February 2020, and user names are accompanied by eight-digit numbers, which is typical behavior for bots. Moreover, they were otherwise almost completely inactivite on Twitter. They are expected to become active before the election.