On September 4, the Fact Investigation Platform published an article titled “Thousands of dollars of unknown origin to “blacken” Avinyan’s opponents: How do fake pages affiliated with the Civil Contract Party work on Facebook?“, revealing that thousands of dollars from an unknown source are being directed to the activities of pages and user accounts supporting the Civil Contract Party in social media, through which counter-propaganda is being carried out against other mayoral candidates participating in the Yerevan City Council elections. It was accompanied by insulting posts and videos against other candidates, which had hundreds of likes and shares. The posts on those pages were also actively distributed by various officials of the Civil Contract Party, MPs, and candidates.
These pages spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to distribute such content on Facebook, the origin of which is unknown.
The article by FIP.am was followed by another investigation into those pages by our CivilNet partners.
Shortly after the article was published, Vahagn Aleksanyan, vice-president of the Board of the Civil Contract Party, accused FIP.am of “fragmentary blindness” in a Facebook post, stating that similar propaganda is also being carried out against them and “if these organizations wanted to ensure comprehensive coverage of propaganda and counter-propaganda happening on Facebook, they would obviously notice those pages as well.”
Now let us see what pages Vahagn Aleksanyan presented as counter-propaganda pages against the Civil Contract Party and whether hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on them, as Aleksanyan claims.
From the screenshots posted in Aleksanyan’s post, we see the page called ParadoxNews. Although the page was deleted after the above-mentioned post and there is no possibility to study its content, one of the screenshots is at least problematic, as it is obvious that two advertised posts are apparently directed against Tigran Avinyan.
In another screenshot published by Aleksanyan, we see a part of Hayk Marutyan’s performance, which was posted on the Facebook page named “My Soldier BROTHER _“. From the study of the page, it becomes clear that it is an entertainment page, created in 2014, has about 70 thousand followers, and over the years there has been no change in the content direction of the materials posted on the page (in contrast to the Civil Contract support pages presented in the above investigation, which were created or were activated immediately before the elections).
The content of the videos posted on the page is different: entertainment, religious propaganda, etc., but it is obvious that there are almost no videos with political content on the page, and we cannot even assume that they are working for a given political force.
By the way, the page has never used advertising, at least there is no mention of it, and considering the number of followers of the page, the number of likes of the published videos is quite logical.
Attached you can see screenshots of several posts randomly selected from the materials posted on the page, which once again proves that the page has no political orientation, and even more so, it does not engage in anti-propaganda against any candidate. The publication of an excerpt from the introduction of Hayk Marutyun’s performance on the page is not sufficient evidence to claim that it belongs to the latter and is engaged in propaganda against political rivals, in particular the Civil Contract Party, as Aleksanyan claims (again, unlike the pages cited in our previous investigation).
The other pages mentioned in Vahagn Aleksanyan’s post, “Comments Today“, “Lurer Online” and “Know the First” were created in the spring of this year, and the last two were created on the same day, March 6.
The review of the pages reveals that all three pages are busy reporting daily news in the form of short videos. However, they differ from other news pages in that from several hundred to several thousand dollars were spent on promoting the videos about Ruben Vardanyan and Mane Tandilyan, the mayoral candidate of the Country to Live Party.
In addition, the advertiser on these pages is the same person or organization, the same phone number and the same address are registered. We also called the phone number 093 700 275 mentioned here, but our calls remained unanswered.
Hripsime Hovhannisyan, the press officer of the Country to Live Party, said that these pages are not financed by the party, and regarding the address mentioned on the pages, she informed that the party has nothing to do with that address, the addresses of the party’s offices are posted on the party website.
As for the statement about “hundreds of thousands of dollars” voiced by the MP, Aleksanyan told FIP.am that this figure was an approximate calculation of the money spent on ads on the Facebook pages of the candidates of the Country to Live Party.
Thus, the pages mentioned by Vahagn Aleksanyan and the Civil Contract affiliated pages revealed by FIP.am are not comparable both in terms of the amount of financial resources allocated for their advertising, as well as in terms of content.
As for the other pages, their advertising funds were allocated solely to cover the activities of a candidate, not to campaign against political opponents, unlike the pages affiliated with the Civil Contract Party that actively target opponents.
It is noteworthy that pages supporting the Civil Contract Party continue their campaign against political opponents. Several other fake pages have appeared, which are engaged in the same “business” as the pages mentioned in our previous article, while some of the pages mentioned in our article were hastily renamed in an attempt to “cover the tracks”.
For example, the page named “Facts” became “Hayrenyac”, “Matsun” became “Mi Qani hogi” (the latter also changed the URL: instead of the former https://www.facebook.com/MatsoniArmenia, the page is now https. //https://www.facebook.com/miqanihogihayastanwww.facebook.com/miqanihogihayastan).
In parallel, other pages continue remaining active. Among them, we also discovered a page called “Yerevan in reality“, the activity of which exactly matches the behavior of the pages listed in the previous article.
By the way, on the next day of publishing this post, Vahagn Aleksanyan published a screenshot taken from our Facebook page, which shows the advertisement of our article about the creation and management of fake pages by members of the Civil Contract Party. In the caption, the MP again tried to show us that we have a biased attitude.
The reality is that the Fact Investigation Platform advertises all its articles, and this one was not an exception.
Below are the articles from the last few days, all of which are advertised.
- 1․ Except for one case, in all the other reported cases, only the Civil Contract Party and its supporters have spent thousands of dollars on Facebook to discredit the opposing candidates.
- 2․ In his posts, Vahagn Aleksanyan targets journalists, using disrespectful language against them.
- 3․ All the articles of the Fact Investigation Platform are advertised, and seeing this as a bias is at least a consequence of ignorance.
- 4․ Although some pages supporting the Country to Live Party do not target other candidates, the party spends funds from an unknown financial source on Internet campaigning, and this is also problematic.
- In a telephone interview with us, Aleksanyan confirmed that at least the pages “The Truth” and “C News” revealed by the investigation are coordinated by the Civil Contract Party, that is, counter-propaganda against political rivals is carried out under the auspices of the party.
The page named “The Truth” belongs to Vilen Gaifejyan, a member of the city council, and his close friends.
And the “C News” page is a page connected to the civic.am website, and the party itself pays for the advertisements posted there.
Meanwhile, all expenses incurred for the campaign within the pre-election campaign must be made exclusively from the pre-election fund of the parties, which is not the same as the party’s funds. It turns out that the party is conducting a campaign both with the funds of the pre-election fund and with the main funds of the party, which is a violation of part 2 of Article 20.1 of the Electoral Code.