August 4, 2022

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While Georgian democracy has never flourished, fact-checkers in the country say that right now tensions are particularly high. 

Recent arrests of key figures in the opposition party, including former pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili and the director of a pro-opposition news channel Mtavari TV, have chilled public discourse, according to Georgian fact-checkers. Moreover, the Georgian ruling party developed a network of pseudonymous Facebook accounts and a “fact-checking” page targeting mostly independent media outlets, civil society organizations, and more recently, foreign ambassadors

“They even developed their own fact-checking platform called ‘In Reality’ that discredits our work, saying it’s a lie without justification,” said Tamar Kintsurashvili, executive director of Media Development Foundation and editor-in-chief of the Georgian fact-checking outlet, Myth Detector. “So right now we’re observing deterioration in terms of democracy.”

In Reality’s posts have targeted civil society groups, Myth Detector and Factcheck Georgia, a fact-checking outlet and subsidiary of Georgia’s Reform Associates, a public policy think tank. One strategy of the page, which reflects a broader strategy of the ruling party, fact-checkers said, is to label any opposition voice as a hate group. It doesn’t engage with the veracity of the content, but discredits it uniformly, dismissing it as biased or fake.

While the page has under 10,000 followers, its posts are often shared on social media by the ruling-party actors, giving them a greater reach.

“The good news is we’re not yet at the stage where they’re going to jail us too,” said Mariam Tsitsikashvili, a project manager at GRASS and editor of Factcheck Georgia. “There are still media freedoms because even though the director of this opposition media organization is in jail, that channel continues to broadcast on topics like Georgia’s harsh financial problems.”

“When we call this ‘so-called fact-checking,’ it is not just because we do not like them,” said Malkhaz Rekvishili, editor-in-chief of Factcheck Georgia. “They have no proper methodology published, no public information about who is editing or writing the posts, who is managing the page. If something is so openly politically affiliated, we do not think it is a real fact check.”

Another Facebook page, TV Sezoni — which is affiliated with Russia, not the Georgian government — published a video featuring poorly photoshopped images of leaders of CSOs, pro-opposition attorneys and media figures getting arrested, Kintsurashvili among them. While Kintsurashvili laughed off a fake photo of her handcuffed in a courtroom, the images do represent the preferences of certain political factions in the country. 

“The government is trying to create alternative institutions,” Kintsurashvili said. “It’s not about criticism based on professional standards, but the goal is to destroy media not controlled by the ruling party.”


Interesting fact-checks

(Shutterstock)

  • Associated Press: Misinformation spreads about election recount in Colorado county (English)
    • The Associated Press ruled that the claim that voting machines in Colorado “failed an accuracy test” ahead of a recount is false. County officials and Dominion Voting Systems tested the equipment and “found no issues,” despite a plethora of posts spreading on social media that claimed the contrary.
  • FactCheck.org: Unequivocal evidence that humans cause climate change, contrary to posts of old video (English)
    • According to the U.N. climate change panel, there is “unequivocal” evidence of anthropogenic climate change. This is despite a 2014 video in which John Coleman, co-founder of Weather Channel, claims that climate change isn’t happening. “A vast and growing body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring and is largely caused by human activity,” FactCheck.org writes. 
  • Reuters: Fact Check – The ‘hole’ in the ozone layer was a real threat, but has been healing due to international action (English)
    • Since people don’t talk about the ozone layer deteriorating as much as they used to, and it doesn’t show up in the news any more, the whole thing was overblown to begin with, the argument goes. An instagram post from conservative commentator Matt Walsh making this claim received over 36,000 likes. In fact, as Reuters notes, the problem was essentially solved in a shining example of global cooperation. Chlorofluorocarbons – or CFCs – were the chemical compound scientists attributed to ozone depletion. The Montreal protocol passed in 1987, which regulated CFCs. It was the only UN treaty ever “to be ratified by every country on Earth – all 198 UN member states.” “The result of the protocol has been dramatic, dropping the consumption of ozone-depleting substances over the following decades down to a fraction of a percent of what they had been,” wrote Reuters. 
  • MisinfoReview: Audio misinformation on WhatsApp: A case study from Lebanon (English)
    • Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin found that audio files circulating on WhatsApp that spread misinformation tend to follow many of the same patterns. Using the case study of Lebanon, researchers noticed how WhatsApp misinformation “follows a consistent structure through the manipulation of interpersonal relationships, the establishing of source credibility, the imbuing of negative discrete emotions, and the inclusion of calls to action.”

Quick hits

(Shutterstock)

From the news: 

  • 2 Refugee Crises—and Their Dark Lessons for the Coming Famine: As millions of Ukrainian refugees are welcomed into Poland, thousands of Kurdish Iraqi and Afghan refugees have been trapped at the Polish-Belarusian border. The government of Belarus engineered this refugee crisis in retaliation against EU sanctions by granting an outsized number of middle eastern tourist visas and bussing them to the Polish border. “These refugees will also face another risk: becoming pawns in a cynical geopolitical game, one heightened by fearmongering disinformation spread and amplified online by state-backed actors.” (Wired, Yasmin Green)
  • Anti-vax Twitter accounts pushing food crisis misinformation, study finds Research conducted by the Network Contagion Research Institute found that accounts previously peddling QAnon and COVID-19 conspiracies have made the pivot to food supply. “Conspiracy theorist social media accounts started pushing the idea that western countries are responsible for the interruption of wheat, barley and maize exports from Ukraine,” writes Adam Gabbatt for The Guardian. (The Guardian, Adam Gabbatt)

 

From/for the community: 

  • Africa Check is partnering with Twitter to combat misinformation during the Kenyan Elections: “We are pleased to collaborate with Twitter as part of our election work in Kenya. The collaboration will allow us to address dis- and misinformation by fact-checking claims and identifying potential misinformation. … Notably, the partnership with Twitter will deepen the impact of our media literacy project as it will allow us to reach a broader audience,” a spokesperson from Africa Check said. 
  • More news from Africa Check – its next summit will be in Kenya. “First-ever Africa Facts summit to be held in Kenya: The Africa Facts network resumes in-person meetings of African fact-checkers since the last meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2019 with its largest ever gathering taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 9 to 10 November 2022.”

Thanks for reading. If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send an email to seth@poynter.org.

Corrections? Tips? We’d love to hear from you. Email seth@poynter.org.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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