Spring cleaning – Facebook deletes hundreds of ‘inauthentic’ political pages, accounts in Georgia
Facebook has deleted hundreds of pages, groups and personal accounts related to a PR consultant of the ruling Georgian Dream party – Koki Kandiashvili; the portal Espersona [Geo. this person] founded by him and the opposition United National Movement.
Facebook deleted 511 pages, 101 personal accounts, 122 groups and 56 Instagram accounts associated with Espersona. All of them were controlled from Georgia.
Facebook used the results of a DFRLAB study to discover these pages and the links between them.
Espersona’s website claims it is a media platform that publishes news and covers politics, business and society. The site also has a separate section, which publishes brief biographies of famous people.
The media platform is owned by Koke Kandiashvili, a PR consultant to the ruling party.
The list of Kandiashvili’s propaganda network includes both fake profiles and so-called false news agencies, thematic groups and fake pages created on behalf of famous people, including opposition politicians and representatives of the healthcare sector.
According to the study, Espersona had eight pages on Facebook with different variations of the name, which in total had 40,000 subscribers. News was published there, the main purpose of which was to disseminate pro-government information and to discredit opposition parties, public activists and local NGOs.
Facebook also deleted several pages that were created specifically for attacks on opposition figures.
The same network used fake pages created on behalf of famous people in Georgia.
For example, after the outbreak of COVID-19, pages were created on behalf of doctors, who are especially trusted by residents of Georgia. For example, a fake page was created on behalf of the director of the First University Hospital Levan Ratiani. According to the authors of the study, this was done to attract a wider audience, and then use this page to disseminate misinformation.
Among the fake pages related to Koka Kandiashvili and his media portal, there was also a fake page on behalf of former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili. One of the posts published on the Merabishvili’s page reported that he no longer plans to participate in politics. The authors of the study believe that the alleged goal of the page owners is to interfere with the political activities of Merabishvili and mislead his supporters.
The 269 pages created by the network used the status of an “information agency” and mainly published pro-government and anti-opposition materials.
Facebook revealed 99 so-called ’inauthentic’ groups that distributed both the Espersona website materials and pro-government and anti-opposition materials from “news agencies”.
Groups were managed by both real users and through fake profiles and pages.
Facebook deleted 43 Espersona accounts on Instagram, some of them sharing materials supporting the ruling party, along with posts on cosmetics and cooking.
According to Facebook, the network spent $30,000 on advertising.
Who is Koka Kandiashvili?
Espersona is an information agency led by Koka Kandiashvili, a PR consultant to the ruling Georgian Dream party. Currently, his personal profile can no longer be found on Facebook.
From 2012 to 2013, when Bidzina Ivanishvili was the prime minister (the billionaire, now the chairman of the Georgian Dream party), Koka Kandiashvili headed the communications department of the prime minister’s office. On December 29, 2013, he became a state public relations consultant.
According to several reports in Georgian media, Kandiashvili ran a so-called troll factory. Kandiashvili himself denied this, claiming that he did not even know the meaning of the words “troll” and “bot”.
Facebook also deleted the profile of his ex-wife Nona Kandiashvili, who was the head of the press service of the government’s office in 2012-2017, and then the head of the public relations department of the City Hall and the Tbilisi City Council. Nona Kandiashvili is also a donor to the Georgian Dream party.
Facebook deletes opposition-related network
Facebook has also deleted 80 pages, 23 personal accounts, 41 groups and nine Instagram accounts associated with the most popular opposition party, the United National Movement.
As Facebook noted in a statement, the network’s content “covered local events and political issues, such as the 2018 elections, the Georgian Orthodox Church, criticisms of the current government’s pandemic management tactics, etc.”
Facebook explains that actions related to the National Movement were discovered “during an investigation of suspicious activities in the region.”
Party responses to Facebook
The ruling party denies any relationship with Koka Kandiashvili and says that the Kandiashvili agency and Facebook groups are not related to the Georgian Dream.
According to Mamuka Mdinaradze, one of the leaders of the parliamentary majority, Koka Kandiashvili is only a supporter of the ruling party.
According to him, Kandiashvili “has been working in social networks independently” since 2013-2014.
“He had no agreements and no tasks from the party,” Mdinaradze said.
The Unified National Movement also denies any connection with the propaganda network.
“The United National Movement did not control, does not control unidentifiable pages and does not plan to do so in the future. It is unacceptable for us to pursue a policy by such methods, ”the party said in a statement.
The statement said that the Russian Federation and the “Georgian Dream” are sources of false information and incitement to hatred in Georgia.
This is not the first time Facebook has deleted pages and accounts associated with unauthentic and coordinated activities on a social network in Georgia. On December 20, 2019, Facebook deleted 396 accounts and pages related to the Georgian Dream and the Panda advertising organization.