Social media platform Facebook announced on May 5 that it removed eight networks of accounts, Pages and Groups, including two groups of hundreds of pages and accounts in Georgia.
It noted that Georgian networks targeted domestic audience, similarly to the groups of removed accounts from U.S., Myanmar, and Mauritania, while group of accounts from Russia and Iran targeted international audiences. Facebook revealed that Russia-linked pages targeted Georgian audience, among others.
Espersona, Pro-Government Accounts
Facebook stated that one of the networks with already removed 511 Pages, 101 Facebook accounts, and 122 Groups, and 56 Instagram accounts is linked to “Espersona, a media firm in Georgia.”
According to the social media giant, Espersona had built a significant outreach counting around 973,000 accounts following its pages and 1,508,000 followers in Facebook groups, as well as 26,000 people following its Instagram accounts.
Around USD 30,000 was spent in ads on Facebook to promote removed pages and accounts, Facebook stated.
Myth Detector Lab by Media Development Foundation (MDF), Georgian watchdog, wrote in December 2019 that “Espersona, an online edition created by Georgian Dream’s PR technologist Koka Kandiashvili, administers Facebook groups and pages involved in the campaign of discrediting the government’s opponents, critical media and other actors.”
“This organization is now banned from our platforms. We found this activity as part of our investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior publicly reported by a local fact-checking organization in Georgia with some links to our past takedown,” Facebook noted.
Facebook said it also removed another group of “23 Facebook accounts, 80 Pages, 41 Groups, and 9 Instagram accounts.” Facebook stated that “this domestic-focused activity originated in Georgia,” adding that “our investigation linked this network to individuals associated with United National Movement (UNM), a political party.”
As for individuals associated with the UNM, Facebook said they garnered up to 785,000 accounts following their pages and 6,300 followers of Facebook groups – another 6,400 following their Instagram accounts.
These persons spent around USD 23,800 in advertising their content, the social media company noted, and hosted up to 22 online events engaging 11,600 accounts in total.
“We found this activity as part of our investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region. Our assessment benefited from local public reporting in Georgia,” it added.
News-Front: Pro-Kremlin Outlet
Speaking of accounts linked with Russia, Facebook stated that “we removed 46 Pages, 91 Facebook accounts, 2 Groups, and 1 Instagram account. This network posted in Russian, English, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Serbian, Georgian, Indonesian and Farsi, focusing on a wide range of regions around the world.”
Facebook added that their “investigation linked this activity to individuals in Russia, the Donbass region in Ukraine and two media organizations in Crimea — NewsFront and SouthFront.”
Earlier on May 1, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian local watchdog, reported that Facebook removed “pro-Kremlin” page of News-Front Georgia and a dozen of accounts linked with it that were spreading disinformation in Georgia amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In December 2019, Facebook announced about its first ever Georgian takedown, that affected Georgian-government linked network on the platform.
Facebook then removed 39 Facebook accounts, 344 Pages, 13 Groups and 22 Instagram accounts “as part of a domestic-focused network that originated in the country of Georgia.”