Georgian-language website’s efforts to promote Chinese interests amplified on Facebook
Network of Georgian-language Facebook assets a potential sign of China’s “discourse power” aspirations in the Caucasus region
A network comprised of at least two Facebook pages and one Facebook group is working in coordination to promote a Georgian-language website that publishes articles in support of China and critical of the United States, an example of how China’s interests are increasingly being promulgated in Georgia.
While there is no current evidence directly connecting the website or Facebook campaign to the Chinese government, their content aligns with the Chinese Communist Party’s newly invigorated approach to reputation building online, part of a strategy it refers to as “discourse power.” As Georgia continues to integrate more deeply into the Euro-Atlantic community, China has expanded its economic, political, and cultural ties with the country — a move assessed by some local experts as a threat to the country’s national security.
According to a report from the European Values Center for Security Policy, a Czechia-based think tank that has studied Chinese influence in Georgia, China’s engagement with the country’s academic, nongovernmental, and economic sectors is increasingly evident. The report highlights China’s efforts in fostering a positive image in Georgia. “While some aspects of this effort are in line with traditional public diplomacy,” it states, “many others are covert, coercive, and potentially corrupt.”
The Georgian-language website at the center of this investigation is EAG News (eagblog.ge), which describes itself as an “alternative news portal.” According to a WHOIS search, the domain was first registered on December 29, 2020. The search results did not, however, provide any information about the website’s administrators, nor is there any information available on the website itself. Its IP address is based in Berlin, Germany, though this provides only limited information, given that website hosting services are often distributed around the globe with no direct connection to the content being hosted.
The webpage, however, took some time to appear online, releasing its first article on August 28, 2021, eight months after being registered, and started production in earnest the following month.
Despite declaring itself to be an “alternative news portal” and featuring five thematic topics (politics, world, economics, technology, and Asia) on its navigation bar, most of eagblog.ge’s articles appear to serve one of two agendas, either promoting China and its president, Xi Jinping, as aspirational partners and world leaders, or attempting to discredit the United States by attacking its leaders, its system of government, and its international activities.
Among the articles focusing on China are some that describe how it historically overcame US resistance to become a member of the United Nations, or how the US is forming a coalition against China. Other articles reported on Xi’s remarks in which he referred to Taiwan as “betraying” the homeland — China accelerated its antagonism toward Taiwan ahead of the latter’s national day on October 10 — and on the Chinese foreign minister’s call for UN members to pay dues like China does. Still other articles talk about China’s ambition to rapidly expand “weather modification” efforts and laud Chinese companies for their successes.
In contrast to China, the website’s coverage of the United States attempts to discredit the country and, more specifically, US President Joe Biden by highlighting their “failures.” For example, while reporting on Biden, two of the article topics were how Republicans are calling the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate unconstitutional and how members of the White House press pool lodged a complaint with the White House over access to a recent meeting between Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Other articles included some on the 15 percent increase in US military suicides over the past year; how a congressperson had urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to resign over the “failed handling” of the Afghanistan withdrawal; and how the Taliban allegedly inherited $85 billion in US weapons following the withdrawal.
Promotion on Facebook
Two Georgian Facebook pages, Eagblog.ge and Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო, regularly shared articles from the webpage. The Facebook pages were created on March 11, 2020, and July 1, 2020, respectively. Notably, the page sharing the name with the website was created nine months before the website’s domain name was registered. Both pages appeared to coordinate the sharing of eagblog.ge’s articles, often posting links to the same stories in quick succession.
Prior to eagblog.ge’s first publications, the page Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო shared mostly anti-LGBT content. After the eagblog.ge webpage started publishing, however, it shifted its focus to sharing the site’s content.
Additionally, there appears to be the third Facebook page in the network, Alternative Movement • ალტერნატიული მოძრაობა, which was created on July 10, 2020. The page has a logo nearly identical to Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო, but has only shared a single post since its creation.
According to data collected from social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the two active Facebook pages — Eagblog.ge and Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო — have increased their activity since September 2021, when the eagblog.ge external webpage also increased its publication rate.
The audience for these pages, however, remains small. While the number of followers has been growing steadily, the total is still modest, with a combined 531 followers between the two pages as of October 12, 2021.
The network also included a group, “ბლოგერები” (“bloggers” in Georgian), which was created on Jan 4, 2021. Currently including only 20 members, the group states in its About section that it is a “webpage for your blogs,” followed by a link to www.eagblog.ge.
The group has three administrators, two out of which are the aforementioned Facebook pages Eagblog.ge and Alternative World • ალტერნატიული სამყარო. These pages regularly post eagblog.ge’s articles to the group. The engagement with the posts in the group, however, is close to zero.
Though this operation appears to be in the audience-building stage, it does represent the start of pro-China online messaging in Georgia, which has not previously seen many similar narratives. It remains to be seen, though, whether this particular network has any direct connections with the Chinese government. Nonetheless, continued monitoring is warranted; while Russia’s disinformation campaigns and malign influence in Georgia have been documented extensively, China’s covert information operations are less understood, making further research a high priority.
Cite this case study:
Eto Buziashvili, “Georgian-language website’s efforts to promote Chinese interests amplified on Facebook,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), October 21, 2021, https://medium.com/dfrlab/georgian-language-websites-efforts-to-promote-chinese-interests-amplified-on-facebook-a44dfb844a4.