Facebook's Statement Requires a Response
On December 20, Facebook released a statement saying that the company had removed hundreds of fake pages, groups, and accounts from their social network. These pages, groups and accounts demonstrated coordinated inauthentic behavior and have been posting materials for discrediting non-governmental organizations, the public defender, the opposition or various civil activists. The actions of the individuals behind these groups may reveal signs of a number of crimes, so the investigation should begin immediately. The organization emphasizes that the process of investigation must draw a strict line between the freedom of expression and a specific crime. The Prosecutor’s Office should initiate criminal prosecution if it is clearly established that the act contains signs of crime and does not fall within the area of freedom of expression.
A total of 39 accounts, 344 pages, and 13 groups were removed as a result of the Facebook investigation. The same investigation revealed that the deleted pages were linked to the Georgian Dream party and advertising company Panda. These pages spent about $ 316,000 on Facebook and Instagram advertising or sponsored posts. It is also noteworthy that the actions of fake groups were mainly aimed at influencing socially active individuals and hindering their work.
If we had independent investigative authorities, the investigation should have been launched immediately, based on the mentioned reports. In case of an impartial investigation, some of the offenses under the Criminal Code may be identified, in particular:
- Criminal Code, Article 194 - Legalization of illegal Income
The investigation should determine whether the individuals behind the fake groups were using illegal funds for their activities, including advertising / sponsored Facebook posts, remuneration of those involved in page management, and other actions;
- Criminal Code, Article 182 - Appropriation or embezzlement by using official position
The investigation should determine whether budgetary funds were illegally used to promote the activities of persons behind the fake groups;
- Criminal Code, Article 333 – Exceeding official powers
The investigation should determine whether the persons behind the fake groups acted with the assistance of civil servants or other public officials or were instructed by them;
- Criminal Code, Article 1443 - Degrading or inhuman treatment
The investigations should determine whether the actions of the individuals behind the fake groups were aimed at humiliating or impairing the honor and dignity of people. Fake Facebook pages and groups often have been campaigning for discrediting specific individuals and groups (religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, civil activists, representatives of civil society, as well as opposition parties and their supporters);
- Criminal Code, Article 1571 – Disclosure of personal secret
The investigation should determine whether the actions of the fake groups were accompanied by unlawful acquisition, storage, use or dissemination of a person's privacy. Moreover, the degree of involvement of civil servants in such actions should also be studied;
- Criminal Code, Article 2391 – Public incitement to acts of violence
As fake pages often ran aggressive campaigns and targeted people and their supporters with specific attitudes, it should be determined whether their actions included incitement to confrontation and violence between persons and groups of various racial, religious, national, ethnic, regional, social, political, linguistic and / or other backgrounds and whether such public incitements led to clear, direct and substantial threats of violence.
- Law on Political Unions of Citizens, Article 34 - Illegal donation
In addition to the possible criminal offenses mentioned above, actions of these secret groups aimed at supporting a particular political party may be considered as a political donation. Therefore, the State Audit Office should also study this issue.