Georgian EPDE member organization ISFED uncovered a Russian information operation on Facebook in Georgia. ISFED explains the coordinated scheme used to promote and amplify Sputnik content among Facebook users in Georgia.
ISFED discovered 11 disguised Facebook pages and 17 inauthentic Facebook profiles that spread Sputnik materials in an organized and coordinated manner. Specifically:
- seemingly harmless fun and special interest Facebook pages focused on posting “positive” photo content to drive up engagement, also post links Sputnik articles on wide array of issues. The 11 pages with a total of over 750,000 followers did not share links from any other website but Sputnik. Some of these pages are managed from Russia.
- 17 inauthentic accounts, some of them with stolen identities, alternate to share Sputnik’s content in an organized and coordinated manner into 41 public Facebook groups on various topics including: celebrities, gardening, tourism, fashion, cooking, astrology, emigrants. ISFED found the same accounts also post content in Russian language groups created about Georgia issues.
While the Sputnik content shared through this coordinated scheme is mostly non-political and more neutral, positive or tabloid, by following the links to Sputnik website, visitors are exposed to articles that are of pro-Russian and anti-Western nature. Sputnik’s inauthentic network on Facebook possibly aims to increase traffic to Sputnik’s website and amplify its content. It may also aim to collect personal digital information of website visitors.
Considering that Georgia is at the frontline of Russia’s information war, any coordinated inauthentic behavior using social media platforms is threatening and directed at information vulnerability of users. These operations may aim to cultivate trust of citizens toward Kremlin’s news agencies, to relax their attention, or collect their information. All these, increase the threat of influence of Russian disinformation in Georgia, ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections.
ISFED calls on Facebook to study this suspicious behavior and remove Sputnik’s inauthentic network from its platform.