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“I will Finish You” – Pro-government Facebook Pages Amplify Gakharia’s Tough line

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The Parliament of Georgia confirmed on September 8 Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s new government. Ruling Georgian Dream (GD) Party has launched its 2020 parliamentary election campaign ahead of its adversaries, and the outlook of the steps taken suggests it will be divisive, bitter and dirty.

As PM-to-be Giorgi Gakharia met European Georgia and United National Movement MPs in the parliament on September 6, promising the major opposition rival UNM to “finish them”, Facebook pages backing ruling party flooded Georgians’ Facebook walls by the ads with hateful, polarizing and dehumanizing messages that targeted political opponents, media and civil society.

Unlike Boris Johnson and his Conservatives in the UK, the Georgia’s new PM and the ruling party did not boost or test his priorities among the voters, but rather focused on sending out the message portraying him as a strongman that aims at “ending opposition United National Movement” in 2020 polls.

Civil Georgia staff Facebook pages were not immune to recent divisive messages boosted by GD backing pages.

Particularly viral was the Facebook page Bidzina Ivanishvili & Media, managed by 18 admins as the “page insights” section suggests. It was particularly active portraying Gakharia as a strongman, conveying his message to end UNM.

Bidzina Ivanishvili & Media had six posts “boosted” – in other words paid for – as of September 6, two of them spreading Gakharia’s message that he would “finish” UNM, two others reiterating Gakharia’s message to UNM – “take hands off your eyes and face the reality” – in response to their gesture alluding to protesters that lost their eyes to rubber bullets.

Makhsovs, another pro-ruling party page was boosting Gakharia’s strongman image after his showdown with the opposition, but in a much more blunt way. “I think the time came, when the man standing at the helm of the country will liberate Georgia from this tuberculosis [UNM]”.

Makhsovs had two ads running on September 6, when PM-to-be had meetings with opposition factions in the parliament.

Another pro-Georgian Dream page Marginal’s Blog also boosted Gakharia’s message “I will finish you” to the UNM. But in contrast with others, it boosted the strongman image by portraying stern-faced Gakharia with against the background of the Georgian flag and the man military guard.

“The UNM was making people live in a fake reality and is trying to do the same from the opposition. Whether in the government or in the streets, their aim is one: faking the reality, creating myths and enveloping people in the fog of lies” the boosted ad reads.

Nazia (Natsia) – Adamiani? [In Georgian: Is Natsi (derogatory term for UNM member) a Human Being?] another attack page page actively supporting the Georgian Dream, also followed the trend. Their sponsored ad was laconic: to translate loosely – “So did he not cut off your tongues, bros’?”

The same page boosted another post claiming ruling party MP, self-styled Green leader Gia Gachechiladze “taught the lesson” to Diana Trapaidze. Trapaidze – TV-host of TV Pirveli, a channel with stringently opposition editorial policy, which recently came increasingly under fire. TV Pirveli owner’s father, Avtandil Tsereteli was obliged to bail of 0.5 million GEL for assisting the founder of the TBC Bank, Mamuka Khazaradze and his Deputy Badri Japaridze “in the legalization of illicit income.”

Nazia-Adamiani? was particularly apt at spreading dehumanizing messages, calling activists protesting Gakharia’s premiership “hags and gremlins”. “It is written on their faces”, this posting says.

Further, the page posted the photo of September 3 at the parliament’s back entrance when MPs were trying to make their way into the parliament. It mocked European Georgia MP Khatuna Gogorishvili (pictured) saying her “pumpkin-like head” got stuck into the door, further adding a pig emoji to the text, conveying a body-shaming message.

This was not the first time the page compared opposition as pigs – in August it portrayed ex-MIA official Shota Utiashvili, currently Senior Fellow at respected Rondeli Foundation think tank, as one of the “pig breeds”.

Kartuli Sakhelmtsipo (Georgian State) is yet another Facebook page boosting pro-GD narrative, this time on nationalistic grounds. The page also posted Gakharia’s “I will finish you” message to UNM, adding that “Natsis, time for your final breath has come!”

The same page sponsored another post on September 6, this time targeting European Georgia, saying “after UNM, Gakharia swept the floor with Natsi’s sorosist outlet as well!” George Soros, Hungarian-American philanthropist has been a regular scapegoat for Georgian ultra-nationalists and ultraconservatives for over two decades.

Georgian Press another pro-ruling party page had a few other ads boosted, propagating Gakharia’s “I will finish you” message. The page has 14 admins, all of them in Georgia.

What Now?

More than ever, Georgian politics are played out on social media, and the pro-government pages are upping the ante to gain early lead in the game of political escalation. Giorgi Gakharia’s mandate starts with what seems to be a calculated and coordinated messaging towards ultraconservative and anti-liberal supporters of GD, portraying the new Prime Minister as a strongman, uncompromising towards their arch-rival, UNM and its supposed minions.

Recent studies by Media Development Foundation and ISFED, local watchdogs noted that since the police has dispersed the demonstration on June 20-21, triggering even wider protests, the mud-slinging pages were activated.

In March 2019, the country’s then main opposition TV channel Rustavi 2 ran a story, claiming Koka Kandiashvili, ex-communications department head at PM’s office, has been running a Facebook troll attack against TBC bank from an office building on Tbilisi’s central 12, Rustaveli ave. building. The channel claimed this building housed a pro-governmental “troll factory” – an office which employs people to wage social media wars. Kandiashvili vociferously denied the claims.

In 2018 the Presidential campaign was particularly nasty and polarized. With crucial 2020 elections, the polarization and hate speech are bound to expand even more.

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