Fake accounts and their relationship with politicians in Kyrgyzstan
The removal of about 400 fake Facebook accounts seen manipulating public opinion during elections is the first reaction from a global platform of this magnitude in the Kyrgyz segment. It took place thanks to the joint efforts of investigative journalists and experts from the Media Policy Institute.
Photos used by fake accounts to create fake personal profiles. Collage credit kloop.kg
This was stated by Elina Karakulova, Director of the Internews Representative Office in Kyrgyzstan, who notes the importance of progressive forces to work together.
Kloop.kg journalists and experts from the Institute of Media Policy submitted the lists directly to Facebook representatives.
In total, the group of investigators managed to analyze over 800 accounts (400 of which have already been deleted by Facebook itself), reveal the main customers of trolling farms and their shadow economy.
This investigation was created with the support of the TRACK Internews project in the Kyrgyz Republic and is an independent work of the editorial board. The investigation was assisted by well-known investigative journalists Andrey Zakharov, Vladimir Tkhorik, Metin Dzhumagulov, and Azamat Tynaev, as well as international fact-checkers.
According to Elina Karakulova, work in this direction will continue along with the implementation of projects to increase media literacy among the population.
In general, around the world, Facebook specialists found and stopped 17 fake campaigns, three of them were found in Kyrgyzstan. The report notes that users have only complained about a small fraction of the activities of these networks.
Facebook specialists wrote to the Media Policy Institute that it was this request that drew the company's attention to the activities of troll factories in Central Asia.
“We brought this to the attention of internal teams and continued to work on defining further actions. It was very valuable for us to be on the right track to maintain the integrity of our platforms, including in light of the January elections, "- FB wrote to the Institute for Media Policy.
According to the director of the Institute of Media Policy Begaim Usenova, the investigation was carried out against suspicious accounts: how long ago the profile was created, whose photo it uses, etc. The characteristic features that were striking were written out separately.
“The trolls were very aggressive, took part in the persecution of protesters, journalists, and used hate speech. Their aggressive behavior made them easier to identify. Subsequently, the fakes began to change their tactics: some behaved themselves like influencers, others wrote comments that were not aggressive, but suggestive of a controversial situation, and others "liked" comments, ”she notes.
According to Begaim Usenova, it was noticeable that the fake accounts were friends with each other and imitated real user pages in every possible way.
“We transferred the created database of fakes to Facebook, where, after rechecking, these accounts were blocked. We believe that the most important weapons against disinformation are media literacy and civic participation. And cooperation with Facebook helps civil society efforts to fight disinformation and public discrediting by fake accounts of real people, activists, journalists, as well as candidates during election campaigns, ”she said.
The main of these groups of accounts is the so-called "Media Center".
“Our investigation found connections with people in Kyrgyzstan with experience in the media and government, as well as with a media company called the Media Center,” the experts said.
We could find out that the activities of this fake network were centered around the parliamentary elections on October 4, 2020, and the early presidential elections on January 10, 2021. At the same time, Facebook claims that the accounts "played on several sides at once" of the political debate.
The journalist of Azattyk radio Toktosun Shambetov found out that the website of the Media Center, which works with fakes, belongs to Nurkan Kerimbayev, who was previously the press secretary of ex-speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov.
Facebook found that some of the blocked accounts, pages, and groups were previously linked to media representatives, government officials, and the Media Center website. Fakes have supported or criticized some politicians during the 2020 parliamentary elections and the 2021 presidential elections.
According to the company, these accounts spent $ 1,250 on Facebook ads in order to spread the news, that is most beneficial to them.
By the way, Asylbek Jeenbekov last October participated in the parliamentary elections with the Birimdik party, which he called pro-government.
And Nurkan Kerimbayev previously served as deputy head of the national news agency Kabar. He does not deny that he is well acquainted with the former Speaker. However, he says that he was not engaged in a factory of trolls and fakes on the Internet in favor of any political forces in the past elections.
According to Nurkan Kerimbayev, the Media Center produced campaign materials for the last year's parliamentary elections, having registered with the Central Election Commission before that. However, it is strange that the "richest" political organizations were advertised in the media, which has existed for only about a year.
“We worked with the parties“ Bir Bol ”,“ Respublika ”,“ Kyrgyzstan ”and“ Birimdik ”- we posted their materials on the website. I think that these political associations have their own PR campaign. And their SMM team shares and distributes campaign materials through social networks. Maybe that's why, ”said Nurkan Kerimbayev.
According to him, currently, four employees are working online on the Media Center website.
Azattyk took a comment from Rustam Halimov, a Kloop employee and one of the authors of the fake investigation. He talked about how the site is especially attacked by trolls when publishing investigations.
Kloop contacted Facebook about suspicious accounts. Rustam Khalimov said that there are constant fakes that change owners from time to time.
“Inexperienced Internet users can trust the information spread by fakes. But we immediately recognize them. They are friends with each other on social networks, hence they are related. We cannot say with certainty that these are the same people, but we know that different political forces can turn to the same company, ”he said.
In Kyrgyzstan, kloop.kg, kaktus.media, Temirov Live and Azattyk regularly investigate fakes, trolls, and bots that operate on social media.