The 14 political parties competing in the Yerevan Council of Elders elections utilized various tactics to gain the trust and votes of citizens during the 24-day campaign leading up to the September 17 election.
In addition to offline platforms, the political campaign expanded online, particularly on social networks.
Visible and invisible payments on social media
According to media researcher Samvel Martirosyan, political forces have heavily invested in social networks to place paid advertisements during this period.
” “Civil Contract” and “Country of Living” parties invested significantly in social media. Social media influencers were heavily involved in this campaign, but the amount paid to them remains undisclosed. Based on the number of influencer advertisements and their rates during this period, it can be concluded that more money has been spent on them than on the Meta. For instance, the maximum expenses for the leading players in Meta amounted to $10,000, which would only be enough to pay 5-6 influencers,” says Samvel Martirosyan.
The media expert noted that in addition to political ads, there were ads on social media platforms that defamed competitors. Paid advertising was used to boost the visibility and spread of these ads.
During the campaign, many people noticed the aggressive counter-propaganda occurring online. The media, individual citizens, and observation missions all voiced the issue. The ruling political party actively used this method, and journalists were quick to point it out.
Counter-propaganda with fake accounts
Journalist Sevada Ghazaryan of a fact-checking platform, noticed fake user accounts and pages supporting political forces and politicians on social media since the beginning of August. Facebook pages supporting the “Civil Contract” party were particularly active, but instead of promoting their candidate, they engaged in counter-campaigning against political opponents. The creation and simultaneous activation of these pages seemed suspicious to Sevada, prompting him to investigate further and uncover the underlying motives.
After finding, collecting, and researching 25-30 similar pages, on September 4, the fact-checking journalist published his “Thousands of dollars of unknown origin to “blacken” Avinyan’s opponents. How do fake pages affiliated with the Civil Contract Party work on Facebook?” digital investigation.
“The idea to write on this topic came while browsing my personal page, where ads against various political candidates kept popping up. Initially, there was no evidentiary basis; however, evidence began to surface later.
What was most suspicious was that the handwriting on those pages were identical. I noticed similarities between the newly opened pages and those from the pre-election period of 2021. These pages were deactivated after the elections and then reactivated during the local government elections. Until August 8, before the announcement of Hayk Marutyan’s participation in the Yerevan Council of Elders elections, the primary target of those pages was Mane Tandilyan, and advertisements were included for those publications. After the announcement, Marutyan was targeted along with Tandilyan,” says Sevada.
The counter-propaganda campaign circulated through thousands of dollars primarily targeted Marutyan’s Czech Republic properties and quitting Civil Contract.
The Country of Living political party was accused of being a puppet of the Russian government. Sevada reported that the phone numbers listed on the anti-propaganda pages were unresponsive or unavailable when they attempted to call them. Interestingly, the phone numbers were almost identical, differing only by one digit.
Two days after FIP.am’s publication, CivilNet also released an investigation revealing additional fake pages with the same handwriting and concept.
Both journalists who worked on the investigative materials agree that the primary targets of systematic anti-propaganda are Facebook users who do not filter or fact-check the information they receive. These users tend to accept any publication as truth without doubt or critical thinking.