Source: Sophie Zhang, Meydan TV

How Facebook trolls spread pro-regime sentiment in Azerbaijan

Posts on social media criticizing Azerbaijani authorities are often inundated by comments from fake accounts defending the government. But who creates these accounts and why?

Former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang, who worked on data analysis, conducted a study and found out that such fake accounts in Azerbaijan are controlled by the ruling YAP party. She said that thousands of comments are being written from these accounts in order to discredit rivals and direct public opinion.

Civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev says that as soon as he writes a post criticizing the government or the president, fake comments immediately appear on his page to defend the authorities.

Sophie Zhang says that it usually takes two to three months to "expose" the owners of fake Facebook accounts, but it was much easier for her to reveal those related to Azerbaijan. According to her, the local “dummy users” do not even hide what they are doing. Zhang adds that Facebook is quicker to react and close fake accounts on behalf of celebrities than on behalf of average citizens.

Bakhtiyar Hajiyev claims that many state organizations have their own team of "trolls" who are promised a career along with money. We were unable to get any comment from YAP about the allegations of creating and managing fake accounts.

State news agency Azertaj, in turn, denied Hajiyev’s assertion that the agency determines the texts of the comments.

Sophie Zhang believes that in order to combat fake accounts in Azerbaijan, this problem should be regularly raised in the media.

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