Online activity on Facebook and Instagram attempted to confuse and divide the public around Kyrgyzstan’s 2020 Parliamentary election and the 2021 snap presidential election, by creating fake accounts, pages, groups and more that played on multiple sides of the political debate at once.
The Institute for Media Policy and Kloop, two Internews partners in the country, had worked to investigate these accounts, using investigative journalism techniques. In November 2020, IMP presented a database of their findings on troll farms and fakes affecting Kyrgyzstan, and in December, Facebook removed a cache of hundreds of the same Facebook accounts, pages, groups and Instagram accounts, the largest removal of such behavior targeting Kyrgyzstan to date.
Facebook contacts explained to IMP that the investigative work 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.”
Using Journalism Tools to Track Fakes
IMP Director Begaim Usenova explained their the investigation was carried out against suspicious accounts based on how long ago the profile was created, photos used in their creation, and their behavior online.
“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 noted.
According to 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.
Rustam Khalimov of journalism site Kloop.kg acknowledges that there are constant fakes that change owners from time to time.
“Inexperienced Internet users can [unintentionally] 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, factcheck.kg, Temirov Live and Azattyk regularly investigate fakes, trolls, and bots that operate on social media.
Internews supports partners in investigative media as part of the TRACK project to build the capacity of civil society to address corruption and promote greater transparency within the Kyrgyz Republic.