Facebook sources targeting Georgia’s Azerbaijani minority reflect pro-West outlook
A DFRLab review of Facebook pages popular among Georgia’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority finds pro-West sentiments, including towards the EU, NATO and Ukraine
An Azerbaijani musician performs during Navruz celebrations in the Georgian town of Marneuli, March 21, 2006. (Source: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)
A DFRLab review of the most popular Azerbaijani-language Facebook pages in Georgia found that these sources generally reflect pro-West sentiments and do not echo Kremlin propaganda in either their coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine or of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
A February 2023 Georgian audience research survey by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) found that support for NATO and the European Union (EU) “is the lowest in the minority settlements” and that “ethnic minority settlements have the most favorable attitude towards the Russian government.” These findings are significant in light of Georgia’s aspirations to become a member of the EU and NATO – an effort that the Kremlin has long targeted with hostile messaging – as well as Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s attempts to justify it while undermining support for Ukraine globally.
Georgia is a multiethnic country. According to a December 2022 article by Georgian outlet Publica, the latest census report by the National Statistics Office of Georgia indicated that ethnic minorities constitute around 13 percent of Georgia’s total population. Among them majority are ethnic Azerbaijanis and ethnic Armenians, constituting 6.3 percent and 4.5 percent of country’s population respectively.
Ethnic Azerbaijani and Armenian minorities generally access information in their respective mother tongue or in Russian. According to Publica, “Sixty-three percent of ethnic minorities can recognize Georgian script and read words [in Georgian] poorly or very poorly,” while “eighty-four percent can understand the content of a [Georgian] text poorly or very poorly.” Additionally, an earlier 2019 NDI survey found that television consumption of news in languages other than Georgian was highest among the ethnic Azerbaijani and Armenian populations. Among the most consumed traditional media in languages other than Georgian were Kremlin-owned and pro-Kremlin propaganda channels like NTV, ORT, Russia 1, and RTR.
Given that the polls did not elaborate on the participants’ sources of information online, the DFRLab examined online information space available for ethnic Azerbaijani minorities.
Facebook pages and associated websites
As Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Georgia, the DFRLab looked into the top ten Facebook pages “liked” by people in Georgia who speak Azerbaijani.
Via the DFRLab’s Facebook page, we accessed the Meta Business Suite, a free tool for managing Facebook pages and Instagram accounts as well as associated advertising activities. The tool is accessible to anyone running a page.
Among the features available in Meta Business Suite is “Insights,” which, according to Meta, allows one to “see metrics, trends, and visual reports that can help you understand which Facebook Page and Instagram strategies work well and where to make improvements.” One of the sub-sections under “Insights” is “Audience,” which “gives you aggregated information about two groups of people – people connected to your Page and people on Facebook – so you can create content that resonates and easily find more people like the ones in your current audience.” Put differently, an owner of a page can not only track insights related to their specific page but also see how other pages are performing and what different audiences are interested in. The “Audience” sub-section also provides a “Potential Audience” search with filtering features.
To assess what Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani minority was potentially interested in on Facebook, we filtered for Georgia as a location and Azerbaijani as the search language to narrow down the results to a Facebook audience matching those designators. To avoid excluding any groups, we did not apply either age or gender filters.
The search result returned four metrics for the potential audience who might comprise Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani minority group on the platform: estimated audience size, age and gender, top cities, and top pages. According to Facebook, these are estimated metrics and they constantly evolve, because the platform “frequently launches new features and new ways of measuring how those features perform.” In regard to how it calculates the estimated metrics, Facebook “look[s] at a portion of data that represents a larger population included in an entire set of data” and models that use “data from several different sources to measure activity that’s hard to count directly.”
According to the results, men outnumbered women in the potential audience across all age demographics, with the highest percentage for each gender in the 25-34-year-old range and overall by an almost three-to-one margin.
Six out of top ten pages popular among the Facebook audience potentially representing Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani minority identify themselves as media: 24News.ge, Gündəlik – Gürcüstan (Daily — Georgia), InterPress.ge, Aktual.ge, Radio Marneuli 96.9 FM/ რადიო მარნეული 96.9 FM, and Marneuli TV LTD. The other four pages included a page of currently imprisoned former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, Azerbaijani musician Elnare Abdullayeva, as well as Ulu Borçalı (“Great Borchali,” a reference to a historical name for a regions in southern Georgia) and Gurcustanlilar (Georgians).
All of the pages except for Mikheil Saakashvili were in the Azerbaijani language, though some also post in Georgian. The DFRLab excluded the two pages belonging to the former Georgian president and musician Elnare Abdullayeva from the analysis process.
Using data from Facebook analysis tool CrowdTangle, the DFRLab found that the total number of interactions with the remaining eight Facebook pages was around 1.47 million in the thirteen-month period from February 1, 2022, to March 2, 2023, with 24news.ge receiving the most interactions. A majority of these pages were tied to external websites with an identical name, though not all of the websites were operational at the time of analysis. The DFRLab checked if and how the news websites and respective Facebook pages covered developments around Georgia’s EU aspirations and Russia’s war against Ukraine – two topics related to the 2023 NDI survey findings.
Coverage of the two topics by the popular platforms
Through a manual analysis of randomly sampled articles, the DFRLab checked if and how the above-mentioned online platforms covered Russia’s war in Ukraine and Georgia’s EU integration process and democratic backsliding.
When covering Russia’s 2024 invasion of Ukraine, 24News.ge, Interpress.ge, Aktual.ge, Radio Marneuli, used “special military operation” – the Kremlin’s obfuscating term for the war in Ukraine – in quotation marks. When providing a background of the war in news articles, Aktual.ge, InterPress.ge, and Radio Marneuli mentioned that Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014. Further, 24News.ge, Radio Marneuli, InterPress.ge, and aktual.ge have reported on the Bucha massacre and Russia’s attacks against Ukrainian civilians.
The same four platforms also reported on topics related to Georgia’s EU integration process and democratic backsliding. For example, 24news.ge covered statements from Georgian officials about EU integration and the European Parliament’s criticism of Georgia’s ruling party and the country’s democratic backslide. InterPress.ge wrote about common myths and disinformation narratives concerning the EU and NATO. Aktual.ge published reports on Georgia’s progress toward EU integration, including assessments of the failed “foreign agents law” and the overall threat to human rights and democracy in the country. Radio Marneuli posted statements from EU, US and Georgian officials on the country’s integration and support of the EU. In addition to the four mentioned outlets, the Facebook page Gündəlik – Gürcüstan, which focuses on social topics concerning Georgia’s Azerbaijani minority, covered the “Home to Europe” pro-EU rallies in Georgia and reported on the language barrier for ethnic Azerbaijani minority in Georgia.
Of the remaining three Facebook pages, Marneuli TV LTD, which publishes in Azerbaijani and Georgian, focuses on local developments in Georgia’s Marneuli region. Their external website publishes only in Georgian. Two other Facebook pages Ulu Borçalı (Great Borchali) and Gurcustanlilar (Georgians), which do not identify themselves as media but are popular among the Azerbaijani-speaking community, mostly share photos and videos related to ethnic Azerbaijani settlements in Georgia.
The DFRLab did not assess the online outlets’ quality and legitimacy, but instead reviewed their coverage of specific topics. Given that they cover a variety of other topics, the DFRLab did not examine and evaluate all their reporting in this investigation.
As Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani community accesses information primarily in the Azerbaijani and Russian languages, and popular Facebook pages for Azerbaijanis in Georgia do not seem to be echoing the Kremlin narratives, further research is warranted. The DFRLab recently examined an Iran-linked website targeting Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani community with anti-West and pro-Kremlin narratives.
Cite this case study:
Eto Buziashvili, “Facebook sources targeting Georgia’s Azerbaijani minority reflect pro-West outlook,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), April 27, 2023, https://dfrlab.org/2023/04/27/facebook-sources-targeting-georgias-azerbaijani-minority-reflect-pro-west-outlook.