As the parliamentary election date gets closer, waves of disinformation and discrediting content intensifies both from Russian and domestic sources. It is likely that the coronavirus pandemic has caused early activation of the infrastructure created for exerting information influence on election processes. Consequently, a high level of activity of coordinated Facebook pages, groups and accounts operating in favor of political actors is visible as early as 6 months prior to the elections. In addition to pages operating for discrediting opponents, a new closely coordinated network of false media pages has emerged, abusing social media platforms to disseminate their favorable messages and information. Even though on 20 December 2019, Facebook removed majority of false media pages, relatively new false media pages have started employing different tactics for operation.
ISFED identified a network of false media pages with elements of close coordination on Facebook, which operates in disguise and utilizes common tactics in an attempt to disseminate pro-governmental messages in an inauthentic manner and demonize critical opinions. In addition to dissemination of pro-governmental articles, these false media pages disseminate targeted disinformation for discrediting public figures and opposition leaders that are critical to the government.
14 false media Facebook pages employ the same tactic, which indicates their coordination. Majority of these pages were created the same day, on 27 May 2019. In parallel with the Facebook pages, their 14 websites and the same number of YouTube channels are also active. Those too have been created within the same period of time. False media names, design of their Facebook pages and appearance of their websites aim to mislead users into thinking that they are real media outlets.
Some false media articles are disseminated selectively in Facebook groups with thousands of subscribers. This way, they reach significant numbers of Facebook users. 35 groups identified by ISFED where false media materials are disseminated in an organized manner, have nearly 5 million members in total.
Personal accounts are used intensively to disseminate posts of some false media pages by sharing them in different Facebook groups within short periods of time. One of such accounts identified by ISFED belonged to a deceased U.S. citizen. It was probably taken over in Georgia and from March 14 through April 13, it was used to disseminate false media posts and provoke interaction in groups with thousands of members.
Notably, 50 fake Facebook pages are evident in the comments section of posts published by false media pages. These pages disguise themselves as different people, while they are all created not as personal accounts but as Facebook pages. They do not exhibit behavior of standard Facebook pages and they remain active with the purpose of leaving mass comments on false media pages.