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Facebook political ad spending in Georgia

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Wednesday, September 16
Facebook Ad Library became available in Georgia on 7th of August, introducing a new set of requirements for political actors. The advertiser has to undergo an authorization process, declaring their identity and providing a “Paid for by” disclaimer.

A local watchdog, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) reported on key political advertising trends on Facebook ahead of October parliamentary elections. According to the report most political parties, leaders and majoritarian candidates have sufficiently met the newly imposed criteria for political ads. ISFED says that there are certain parties that have yet to adequately declare their information and smear campaigns by anonymous Facebook pages are still common.

Political ads are not advertised by anonymous Facebook pages, which sponsor posts mainly to discredit opposition parties and their leaders. Despite Facebook's mandatory authorization, anonymous discrediting sites continue to try to circumvent binding rules and publish political ads that bypass the transparency standard.

Based on a recent Facebook report, covering the period from August 4 to September 6, ISFED stated that approximately $193,465 was spent on a total of 4,607 political ads in Georgia in that timeframe.

The ‘Strategy Builder and Giorgi Vashadze’ spent $47 800, topping the list of political parties that advertise on Facebook. It was followed by European Georgia – $30,782 of which about 52% came from ads on the party's Facebook page and the rest from the party leaders' official websites; Lelo – $21,747; Ruling Georgian Dream – $20,421; United National Movement – $6,678 and Alliance of Patriots – $4,663.

ISFED named parties that posted undeclared ads, thus violating Facebook ad policy: Free Georgia; Georgian March – National movement; Euro-Atlantic Vector; United Georgia – Democratic Movement of ex-Speaker Nino Burjanadze; For Justice of MP Eka Beselia.

The Civil Society Organization also found that some parties, that mostly adequately declare their information, have in some cases posted undeclared ads: European Georgia, the United National movement and Aleko Elisashvili – Citizens.

According to the watchdog, even though the Georgian Dream usually follows the requirements, supporters’ pages do not provide the required information, even though the administrator of the pages may be connected to the party members. For example, Davit Dugladze, who posts on ‘Support Zaza Dugladze’ and ‘41 is my choice’ is the brother of a GD majoritarian candidate Zaza Dugladze.

The watchdog also identified 11 anonymous pages that sponsor posts aimed mostly at discrediting opposition parties. Thus, the issue of anonymous and fake media pages is still prevalent, with these pages continuing to advertise without any declarations about funding and mostly targeting opposition parties.

The watchdog notes that advertisements with political content on anonymous and false media pages operating for the purpose of political discredit continue to be published without declaration. Most of them sponsor posts to discredit opposition parties and their leaders. On the pages run by Bakur Svanidze, which discredits almost all other parties and political leaders in favor of the Patriots Alliance, political advertisements are also published without declaration.

Similarly, false media pages that pretend to be media outlets, but in fact engage in political PR and propaganda against opposition parties anonymously, try to circumvent Facebook's demands. ISFED has filed a number of undeclared advertisements on these pages. Some of them have been suspended by Facebook, while many of them are no longer searched in the advertising library due to the undeclared political advertisements.

In case of identification of political advertisement by Facebook, which is not accompanied by mandatory information, the advertisement will be activated. In addition, a report function has been activated, through which any user can indicate that the advertisement is about elections or political issues and does not have the necessary remarks, and if confirmed, Facebook will deactivate the advertisement.

Facebook recognizes advertisements in social, electoral or political cases if: The advertisement refers to or is published by / on behalf of a public official, candidate, political person or political party; Advertising refers to elections, referendums, voting initiatives, calls such as ‘go to the polls’ or the election campaign; Deals with social issues in the region in which advertising is shared; It is regulated by the state as political advertising.

Another issue the CSO identified is one political actor advertising on various different pages, with different disclaimers ‘which complicates identifying the total cost.’

The watchdog also outlined key takeaways regarding targeted audiences and demographics. ISFED said the parties and majoritarian candidates usually select their targeted audience according to geographic locations. The CSO said the Lelo party addressed this method the most.

The age audiences of European Georgia leaders often differ from one another. The audience of advertisers on the Facebook page of Giga Bokeria, the majoritarian MP candidate in the Poti, Khobi and Senaki constituencies, is mostly in the 18- to 35-year-old category. Political advertisements posted on the page of the party chairman - Davit Bakradze are viewed more often by the representatives of the older age groups.

The watchdog found that the Kremlin-friendly Alliance of Patriots party targets most advertisements in Tbilisi and Adjara, with its anti-Turkish ads being viewed mostly by males. Another party, that targets its ads at males, is the ultranationalist Georgian March – National Movement, averaging a 86% male viewership.

On the other hand, the watchdog notes that New Political Center – Girchi, targets its ads at people of the 18-35 age group, rarely targeting people more than 44 years old.