MDF Report on Anti-Western Messages, Disinformation During Pre-Election Campaign

The Media Development Foundation (MDF), a local media watchdog, said in a report released on November 16 that it revealed 157 anti-Western messages in the run up to Georgia’s October 31 parliamentary elections.

Along with anti-Western messages, the report monitored hate speech, discrediting pre-election campaigns, and disinformation during pre-election campaign, covering a period from August 1 to October 25.

The watchdog noted that out of 157 anti-Western messages, the majority(65) targeted the West as a “common geopolitical space with shared values,” followed by NATO (41), the U.S (26), CSOs and George Soros (15), and the European Union (10).

MDF’s report was supported by USAID-funded “Promoting Integration, Tolerance, and Awareness (PITA)” program, administered by the UN Association of Georgia.

The Kremlin-friendly nativist Alliance of Patriots (AoP) party was responsible for a large share of the anti-Western messages (87), most frequently targeting NATO (36) to provoke skepticism toward Georgia’s integration into the alliance, and garnering support for a neutral foreign policy.

The report identified 140 comments containing hate speech, with 87 xenophobic statements, 47 homophobic remarks, and 6 statements fomenting strife.

According to MDF, the largest share of xenophobic comments were Turkophobic (59), largely driven by the AoP party campaign “trying to mobilize its supporters through reopening historical traumas and diverting attention from Russian threats to historical threats.”

The most influential discrediting campaign against the opposition was connected to the “David Gareji Issue,” MDF reported, with the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia detaining two Border Demarcation Commission members over ceding lands to Azerbaijan ahead of the parliamentary elections.

MDF’s Myth Detector project also identified 14 Facebook accounts, and 4 pro-government media outlets, attempting to connect the October 21 Zugdidi bank robbery to the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party.

The Myth Detector found 22 pieces of disinformation and manipulative content spread by election subjects, mostly by the AoP party (9), that, according to the watchdog, fueled Turkophobic sentiments during its pre-election campaign through manipulating history.

AoP was followed by the Georgian March (7), another nativist party led by Sandro Bregadze, former Deputy Minister under Georgian Dream government. The party focused on threats of Georgia’s national identity eroding, while also “echoing Kremlin’s disinformation messages in the Baltic states.”

From 31 pieces of disinformation identified in the MDF report, 16 were against the opposition, while 8 were against the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party, with the most widespread forms of disinformation being falsification of quotes, fake news, spread of fabricated posts/documents, and photo/video manipulation.

56 accounts were found to spread disinformation against the opposition, and “were mainly affiliated with the ruling [GD] party,” at the same time, 30 accounts were targeting the GD party, and were affiliated with the UNM, the MDF report reads.

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