Pro-government Facebook ads target protests against foreign agents bill in Georgia

Dozens of Facebook ads targeted Georgian protesters with anti-Western and anti-LGBTQ+ narratives

Pro-government Facebook ads target protests against foreign agents bill in Georgia

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BANNER: A demonstrator makes a heart-shaped gesture while standing in front of a police cordon during a rally to protest against the so-called foreign agents bill  in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 1, 2024. (Source: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze/File Photo)

In the wake of large-scale protests in Georgia against a controversial bill on the influence of supposed “foreign agents,” the DFRLab analyzed Facebook ads from the pages of pro-government actors and found that the ads targeted democracy activists and the West. The ads portrayed the protesters as instigators of “revolution” backed by the West and labeled them “LGBT propaganda” actors, all in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the protests.

In March 2023, the ruling Georgian Dream party (GD) proposed legislation dubbed the “Russian law” due to its resemblance to a similar law in Russia. GD claimed the bill was about transparency around foreign influence; it would have forced any person or organization receiving funds from abroad into a cumbersome and debilitating regulatory regime to undermine their ability to operate in Georgia. It dropped the bill, however, due to massive protests shortly after its initial proposal and promised that the bill was dead. Contrary to that promise, GD reintroduced the bill on April 3, 2024, again under the guise of transparency legislation. The move has sparked non-stop protests throughout April 2024. On April 30, police violently dispersed the peaceful protesters, which Georgia’s public defender determined was a disproportionate use of force. Nine leading local watchdog organizations said that the dispersal was illegal and that the use of force against protesters was “tantamount to torture.”

In response to the renewed civil protests, GD held a counter-demonstration on April 29, reportedly organized through extensive mobilization of administrative resources. In a speech addressing supporters, Bidzina Ivanishvili, oligarch and honorary GD leader, supported the country’s anti-Western policies and announced repressions against opponents. He also voiced conspiracy theories by referencing the existence of “a global war party,” an unknown entity allegedly fighting Georgia’s current government. According to Ivanishvili, this entity has a “decisive influence” on NATO and the European Union (EU) and only sees Georgia and Ukraine as “cannon fodder.” He also declared it a failure, as the Georgian government did not allow “them” to open a second front in Georgia.

The reintroduction of the bill has drawn sharp criticism from Georgia’s Western allies. On April 18, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) expressed their concern that the bill threatens Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. This was followed by a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on April 25, condemning the bill and asserting that the “EU accession negotiations should not be opened as long as this law is part of Georgia’s legal order.” Furthermore, on April 26, fourteen US senators sent a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze warning that, if the legislation became law, it “will be compelled to encourage a shift in the US policy toward Georgia” and that this shift could involve “sanctions on those responsible for undermining Georgia’s democratic development or inhibiting its Euro-Atlantic trajectory.” On April 29, two US congressmen expressed their apprehension that the bill “diverts Georgia from that [Euro-Atlantic] path” and was similar to legislation enacted in Russia by President Vladimir Putin. On May 1, the US Department of State also condemned the “Kremlin-inspired foreign influence” law.

On May 2, the international hacktivist collective Anonymous claimed responsibility for taking down the websites of GD and the pro-government TV channel POSTV. The day prior, Anonymous had warned GD and the police that continued attacks on protesters would lead to the release of information about government officials.

Sponsored campaigns on Facebook

The DFRLab analyzed Meta’s Ad Library report for the period of March 28 through April 26, 2024, as the bill was re-introduced on April 3. Among the top twenty spenders identified, sixteen were official GD pages, individual government member pages, or pages featuring pro-government content. Notably, while seven pages belonged to GD or government members, four pages belonged to pro-government media outlets. Of these, two were anonymous pages supporting GD, two were pro-GD pages presenting themselves as fact-checking platforms, and one was an anonymous page discrediting opposition parties and civil society. Overall, the sixteen pages spent over $89,000 on Facebook ads during the specified period.

Bar chart showing the list of GD and pro-GD Facebook pages that spent the most on Facebook ads between March 28 and April 26. Official GD and government pages are in blue while unofficial but pro-government pages are in orange. (Source: Sopo Gelava/DFRLab via Meta Ad Library and Flourish)

The DFRLab focused its research on ads from seven Facebook pages among the top spenders. Four pages – “POSTV – ანალიტიკა” (“POSTV – Analytics”), “POSTV – ახალი ამბები” (“POSTV – News”), “TV Imedi”, and “ – ნიუსჰაბი” (“ – Newshub”) – are media outlet pages with pro-government editorial biases. Two others, “Bidzina Ivanishvili for Georgia” and “ქართული ოცნება ჩემი არჩევანია” (“Georgian Dream is my choice”), are anonymous GD-supporting pages. The final page, “პოლიტიკური აბსურდი” (“Political Absurd”), spread smear campaigns targeting political opposition, critical media, and civil society prior to May 1; the page then went offline, though its ads still appear in the library.

The ads targeted the protests around the proposed law  and revolved around three narratives: (1) the West is orchestrating a revolution or coup in Georgia; (2) the protests are LGBTQ+ demonstrations; and (3) the West is interfering in Georgia’s domestic affairs. These messages are well-worn narratives in the arsenal of Kremlin propaganda targeting the West when given any pretext, such as the foreign agent law protests. EUvsDisinfo, a flagship project of East Stratcom Task Force, has documented hundreds of such cases containing disinformation narratives.

Narrative 1: The West is orchestrating a revolution or coup in Georgia

Government propaganda engaged in a smear campaign against the protests, alleging that they were orchestrated by the West to incite revolution in Georgia. The Facebook page for pro-government TV channel POSTV sponsored an ad featuring an interview with Larry Johnson, a former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who claimed that the West was planning a “color revolution” in the country. This narrative spread on Facebook, amplified by pro-government proxy experts and at least five other pages outside the scope of our research that sponsored the post. Johnson worked for the CIA between 1985 and 1989 and frequently appears on Kremlin propagandist media spreading conspiracies against the West.

Screencaps of Facebook ads promoting an interview with Larry Johnson, a former CIA employee who claims that the West is plotting a color revolution in Georgia. (Source: DFRLab via Meta Ad Library)

The page POSTV – Analytics also sponsored four posts promoting the well-worn “Maidan” narrative, alleging that the demonstrations against the Russian-style “foreign agent” law are an attempt to incite a coup. Maidan broadly refers to the 2014 Euromaidan protests in Kyiv, which the Kremlin propaganda apparatus labeled a coup. This narrative was previously used against protesters when then-GD chairman Irakli Kobakhidze declared the March 2023 protesters were in fact “foreign agents” attempting to overthrow the government. POSTV created image compilations with captions referencing “indicators of color revolutions,” suggesting that Georgian protesters were engaging in protest tactics purportedly organized and tested by the West in other countries, including Ukraine in 2014.

Screencaps from the Meta Ad Library of the ads sponsored by the Facebook page for POSTV, a pro-government TV channel. The text of the ads claims that the West is attempting to orchestrate a revolution in Georgia similar to that which it allegedly did in Ukraine in 2014. (Source: DFRLab via Meta Ad Library)

Narrative 2: Protests are LGBTQ+ demonstrations

To discredit the protests and instill fear among citizens regarding “LGBT propaganda,” pro-government Facebook pages engaged in a smear campaign against the activists protesting the Russian-style bill. These pages sponsored posts emphasizing the participation of LGBTQ+ activists in the protests and labeling the demonstrations as “led by LGBT propagandists.” Multiple Facebook ads targeted civil activists Gvantsa Pertia, Tamar Jakeli, and Mariam Kvaratskhelia, head of the LGBTQ+ organization Tbilisi Pride. POSTV also sponsored two posts featuring a video titled “A documentary: attempted revolution orchestrated under the rainbow flag.”

Screencaps of Facebook ads attempting to delegitimize protests by labeling the demonstrations “LGBT propaganda.” (Source: “POSTV-ანალიტიკა“/“POST-analytics” via Meta Ad Library)

Other ads employed the false dilemma fallacy, a common propaganda technique that presents a complicated choice as solely binary, such as being in favor of either greater EU integration and a supposed LGBTQ+ agenda or Georgian traditions, however nebulously defined. For instance, the page Political Absurd circulated image compilations that equated the protests with LGBTQ+ demonstrations, setting these images in contrast to other images of Georgian national symbols such as the national flag, traditional clothing, and others.

Screencaps of ads sponsored by anonymous page “Political Absurd” that presented a false choice between the EU and “LGBT propaganda” or Georgian traditions. The ads juxtaposed rainbow symbols with national symbols. (Source: “პოლიტიკური აბსურდი”/“Political Absurd” via Meta Ad Library)

Narrative 3: The West is interfering in Georgia’s domestic affairs

Lastly, some of the ads sponsored by the analyzed pages promoted the “sovereignty” narrative, which GD’s leaders often use as a rhetorical weapon to denigrate their opponents. In response to Western criticism of the reintroduction of the “foreign agent” law, the Georgian Dream party and GD-led government members adopted a communication strategy emphasizing Georgia’s sovereignty against alleged Western interference in domestic processes. Ivanishvili reiterated this message during an April 29 speech in which he used the word “sovereignty” eleven times. GD has also justified its reintroduction of the “foreign agent” bill by asserting that transparency around Western-funded nongovernmental organizations would defend Georgia’s independence and sovereignty.

Screencaps of Facebook ads promoting GD statements on “sovereignty” against Western influence. (Source: “POSTV – ახალი ამბები“/“POSTV-News“ Meta Ad Library)

To bolster the “sovereignty” message, pro-government media channels sponsored statements from Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, MEPs from Ireland known for their controversial stances, including on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both MEPs have accused the European Parliament of being “anti-Russian.” During the plenary session of the European Parliament on April 24, a majority of MEPs voted to condemn the Russian-style bill, calling for GD to drop it once again. Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, however, echoed GD’s positions, stating that the EU must stop meddling in Georgian affairs. Wallace also said that the EU and the United States exploit their wealth by funding nongovernmental organizations that spread propaganda and incite protests in non-member countries like Georgia.

Cite this case study:

Sopo Gelava, “Pro-government Facebook ads target protests against foreign agents bill in Georgia,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), May 2, 2024,