France on Monday (Nov 14) accused actors linked to Azerbaijan of leading a campaign of information manipulation aimed at damaging France’s reputation for its ability to host the 2024 Olympic Games.
According to a report by Viginum, the organization that fights foreign digital interference, which AFP and other media were able to consult, the investigation began on July 26 when “several images calling for a boycott of the 24 Olympic Games” were widely shared on X (formerly Twitter), were detected.
The research was conducted in a context of diplomatic tensions between Paris and Baku. In recent months, France has been involved in mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two former Soviet republics that have been in conflict for thirty years.
Riot images have been used
France has also expressed support for Armenia, which fears a violation of its territorial integrity by Azerbaijan, a position that has earned the country harsh criticism from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev.
“These publications contain images of riots or the city of Paris and also contain on each content the logo of the Olympic Games, three official
On July 26 and 27, more than 1,600 publications accompanied by these visuals or hashtags were published on the platform. According to Viginum, an organization dependent on the Prime Minister, some 91 stories appear to be behind these publications, which “suggest that there is artificial reinforcement”.
91 accounts affected
Some of them exhibit “inauthentic characteristics, both in terms of activity and profile criteria,” it is specified. Viginum thus found that 40 of them were created in the month of July 2023 and “only published content calling for a boycott” of the Games.
Furthermore, the study found that of these 91 reports, “a significant portion show at least one link with Azerbaijan”: a photo with the flag of Azerbaijan or Azerbaijani places, a location declared in Azerbaijan, the presence of Azerbaijani characters, or the promotion of videos or excerpts from statements by the Azerbaijani president.
Another “mark of inauthenticity”, when an account was declared in France, spelling errors in the location suggest it is a literal translation from Azerbaijani into French, such as Bordo for Bordeaux or Monpelye for Montpellier.
The Azerbaijani president’s party was involved
Additional research also made it possible to identify an account behind the publication of content aimed at the organization of the Olympic Games on X.
The @MuxtarYev account, which published fifteen different images calling for a boycott, was then shared and amplified by inauthentic accounts and immediately adopted by X accounts linked to Azerbaijan, “strengthens the hypothesis of a coordinated maneuver “.
The @MuxtarYevse account, created in June 2023, claims to be in Azerbaijan. “The displayed name Muxtar Nagiyev and the photo in the account profile coincide with the identity of the Chairman of the Sabail District Organization of the New Azerbaijani Party,” President Aliyev’s party.
More than 7000 suspicious accounts
In addition, on July 27, a video hostile to the holding of the Olympic Games and drawing a parallel between scenes of riots and sports competitions was published by the X account @NewYorkInsider, a fake news media.
This 39-second video has been viewed millions of times, said Viginum, who clearly sees in it a desire to damage France’s image.
As of August 8, 2023, the @NewYorkInsider account had over 11,000 followers and 48 subscriptions. Of the 11,000, more than 7,000 were created after July 1 and “the majority exhibit inauthentic characteristics”, namely no subscribers, no publications and common features in their usernames.
an attack “on the fundamental interests of the nation”
Viginum researchers also noted that other domain names appear for newyorkinsider, hosted on the same server, including the site orkhanrza.com that promotes Orkhan Rzayev, an Azerbaijani national who heads two companies: Eleven Kings and MediamarkDigital.
The first company specializes in video games and the second in digital marketing. Viginum concluded that the Olimpiya campaign, the Olympic Games in Azerbaijan, is “likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation.” And he expects other potential campaigns focused on the Olympics.