The present report summarizes trends identified by ISFED during the last stage of the pre-election period of the first round, as well as in the period between the first and the second rounds of the presidential election. Findings of the monitoring confirm that Facebook was used not only for political discussions but also for discrediting campaigns against candidates, parties, observer organizations, media outlets and politically active individuals by actively spreading misinformation and a range of damaging information in an organized and purposeful manner. As soon as the first round ended, it became clear that activity and negative campaign by political groups on social media became more aggressive. Therefore, it is impossible to paint a thorough picture of the pre-election period ahead of the second round of the election without analyzing social media.
Attempts to discredit candidates and political actors through social media using sponsored content published on anonymous Facebook pages became intensive.
From October 19 to December 2, activity of mostly anonymously pages with the aim to discredit specific candidates, parties and other actors and influence public attitudes was especially striking. Number of these pages tripled before the second round. The trend of sponsoring discrediting posts to ensure their wide reach also grew.
Discrediting Facebook pages operated against Salome Zurabishvili as well as Grigol Vashadze and parties that endorsed them, using clearly negative messages.
Anonymous pages operating for discrediting purposes were divided into two camps during the pre-election period of the second round. One group was targeting Salome Zurabishvili and the ruling Georgian Dream party that managed her campaign, while another group was operating against Grigol Vashadze, political parties and leaders that supported him and Rustavi 2 TV. Unlike official Facebook pages of the presidential candidates and political parties that supported them, the anonymous pages waged negative, discrediting and somewhat immoral campaign. These pages were speculating with details of the candidates’ personal lives and other sensitive issues. They also often published posts containing xenophobic and homophobic contents.
During the pre-election period of the second round, it became evident that discrediting pages from both sides attacked one another in an organized manner and engaged in smear campaigns in response to discrediting messages coming from the opposing side.
For instance, pages targeting Grigol Vashadze were actively disseminating posts of POST-TV campaign “#NotoMisha”, where individuals shared their difficult experiences related to the time when the UNM was in power. In response, pages operating against Salome Zurabishvili started a campaign “NotoSalome”, where former military officials referred to Salome Zurabishvili as instrument of Russia’s interests and a traitor, saying that having her as the commander-in-chief was unacceptable. In response to this campaign, pages operating against Grigol Vashadze released video interviews with former military servicemen and parents of soldiers that were killed, condemning soldiers’ remarks about the female candidate and strictly criticizing involvement of soldiers in politics and their use by the UNM for this purpose.
Local self-government employees (civil servants) often violated the Election Code by campaigning during working hours using social media.
Similar to the trend identified in the first interim report of social media monitoring, civil servants continued to actively participate in campaigning during the second round, in favor of the candidate endorsed by the ruling party and against the opposition candidate. During the second reporting period covering the official election campaign for both the first and the second round of the election, ISFED identified violation of campaigning rules during working hours by a total of 62 civil servants in 30 municipalities.