Facebook has reportedly taken down ‘pages and groups’ associated with Alt Info, a violent extremist group largely responsible for organising mass attacks on journalists in Tbilisi last July, which many speculate has received funding from Russia.
The move by the social media company, first reported by the International Society for Fair Elections And Democracy (ISFED), a Georgian election watchdog, coincided with emerging calls to curtail 'Russian propaganda' in Georgia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.
‘Along with the ongoing war in Ukraine, we are trying our best to deter Russian propaganda and information manipulations about the War’, ISFED wrote on Twitter.
As Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, the calls to curb ‘Russian propaganda’ in Georgia have been at some their loudest since the 2008 August war.
‘In addition to the presence of Russian military bases on Georgian territory [in South Ossetia and Abkhazia], the organized groups of radical ideology, most likely funded by Russia, which actively recruit supporters through social media and public gatherings, pose a critical threat to the state security of Georgia’, a statement from Tbilisi-based Democracy Research Institute (DRI) published on 25 February reads.
The Information Integrity Coalition (IIC), a platform uniting nine groups, including ISFED, Georgia's Reforms Associates, and Institute for Development of Freedom of Information demanded the restriction of ‘all Russian propaganda TV channels for 90 days’ in the interests of Georgia’s national security.
While neither DRI nor the IIC named any specific channels, the list would almost certainly include Alt Info’s namesake TV channel, a mouthpiece for Alt Info’s recently launched Conservative Movement political party.
The party, formed only a few months ago, already boasts of nearly 40 offices nationwide.
Through their TV channel, Alt Info group devoted a big part of their air time recently to arguing against pro-NATO aspirations for countries like Ukraine or Georgia. At least two offices of Alt Info have been vandalised by unknown individuals since Russia’s invasion.
Ending ‘Russian propaganda’ in Georgia is also among the latest demands voiced by pro-Ukraine street demonstrations held in Tbilisi for the past four days.
‘President Putin, we appeal to you’
Some groups in Georgia advocate scrapping plans of integrating into NATO and for closer ties with Russia as a way to ‘restore Georgia’s territorial integrity’, referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia that broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s, and which they believe can be returned to Tbilisi’s control with Russia’s help.
The appeal contradicts support to join NATO among Georgians, consistently popular throughout the years as highlighted in a December poll commissioned by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI).
‘When we are not able to restore our territorial integrity with force […] in that case you have to avert a new bloodshed for your country, and now Ukrainians are trying, encouraged by the west, to start large-scale military operations’, Alt Info’s anchor and ultra-conservative activist Nikoloz Mzhavanade claimed on 20 February.
Alt Info is among several media platforms channelling anti-liberal, anti-western, and anti-NATO ideas in the country where open pro-Russian positions are seldom heard in public discourse.
On 21 February, the day Russia recognised separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk as sovereign states, leader of Alliance of Patriots, anti-NATO political group, Irma Inashvili published an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
‘Realising that confrontation with Russia is fatal for Georgia, we, 53 political and civil groups, have gathered in a united patriotic front and publicly signed a declaration about Georgia’s full military neutrality, demanding from the Georgian authorities a respective change in the constitution’, the statement read. ‘Mr President [Vladimir Putin], we appeal to you with a hope for your help.’
The signatories also included anti-queer and xenophobic group Georgian March as well as less-known groups like Georgia’s Ukrainians for Peace, the International Association of Ossetians Residing in Georgia, and the Kyokushin Karate Federation.
According to investigative media group ifact.ge, the Alliance of Patriots inflated the number of signatories that according to them, included non-registered groups and 20 Alliance of Patriots members as separate signatories.