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Vertical Propaganda: Investigating TikTok's Inauthentic Networks and Opinion Leaders

The Purpose of The Study

The TikTok platform gained popularity worldwide, including in Georgia, during the 2020 pandemic. Initially, TikTok was primarily used for entertainment purposes. Due to the significant increase in the number of TikTok users and the unregulated nature of the platform, it has become evident that it is fertile ground for propaganda. In Georgia, both official and fake inauthentic accounts are currently active on TikTok, motivated by political motives. 

The study has two primary objectives. The first is to map inauthentic sources disseminating discrediting and pro-government messages on TikTok, describe their tactics, and find similarities between them. The second objective is to examine opinion leaders and influential individuals on the platform who have connections to the government.

TikTok platform has become particularly appealing to pro-government actors since the protests directed towards the controversial law “On Transparency of Foreign Agents”, as it serves as a crucial means of engaging with the younger audience. The primary objective of pro-government TikTok accounts is to discredit journalists, representatives of non-governmental organizations, or members of opposition parties who criticize the government. Furthermore, to date, only one comprehensive study has been conducted on TikTok, and that research primarily relied on quantitative analysis rather than content examination. In contrast, our research incorporates both content analysis and quantitative methods.

Our study aims to create a basis for future research on this topic. There is an urgent need to investigate TikTok propaganda networks considering the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections in Georgia.

Main Findings

  • Apart from officials, other pro-government leaders also actively use this platform; There are 48 anonymous and 9 official accounts (Appendix 1);

  • Official accounts tend to have more positive content aimed at image building. Out of 1274 videos studied in the frame of the research, only 167 were of negative/discrediting content;

  • Some authentic accounts share similar videos of political figures;

  • Inauthentic pro-government accounts were particularly active during crises like the Shovi tragedy and the president's impeachment (Appendix 2);

  • Official pro-government accounts or fake accounts primarily manipulate issues related to the previous government, religion, patriotic values, and themes of peace;

  • Certain accounts are involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior, sharing the same video (Appendix 3);

  • Accounts frequently use the same "hashtags," although in some cases, irrelevant hashtags like #GenZ are employed to reach diverse audiences based on the "TikTok" algorithm's functioning principle (Appendix 4);

  • During the research process, two accounts disappeared, one became private, and the other was no longer searchable. This indicates a tendency for inauthentic accounts to be created and deleted quickly.


The initial stage of the research included the collection of pro-government accounts. Official accounts were selected based on activity, while unofficial accounts were identified through followers and/or specific hashtags. During this stage, we identified 56 accounts, with eight belonging to genuine pro-government individuals, while 48 were operated anonymously. 8.7 thousand videos were posted on these accounts.

Both quantitative and qualitative content analysis methods were employed in the research. The quantitative analysis measured the total number of TikTok account followers and interactions. We analyzed the content of the videos and the main propaganda messages distributed by these accounts. The study also determined which national events were most commonly associated with distributing pro-government content on TikTok and analyzed the main messages emphasized in these accounts. 

Utilizing the MediaSpeech tool, out of the 8.7 thousand videos distributed on TikTok, large videos of 1 minute and longer were checked and decoded.






Anonymous Account


7 600

504 100

8 400 000

Official Account







8 875



Action of authentic pro-government and government accounts on TikTok

While searching for TikTok accounts suitable for research purposes, several accounts owned by real individuals engaging in crediting or supporting activities on TikTok under their authentic names and surnames were identified. The activity of government-affiliated authentic accounts on the platform can be categorized into two main areas:

  • Discrediting the opposition and civil society, involving accusations, and in some cases, direct insults towards undesirable individuals.

  • Promoting a positive narrative aimed at improving the image of specific politicians. It is noteworthy that this type of content predominates in the authentic reports. The authentic accounts examined within the scope of the study are listed in the table:

Account owner


Nino Tsilosani

Member of the Parliament of Georgia

Giorgi Chakvetadze

Member of Parliament of Georgia

Kakhi Kaladze

Mayor of Tbilisi

Christina Kobakhidze

Ambrolauri City Council member

Avtandil Tsintsadze

Member of the Tbilisi City Council

Tako Mamaiashvili

TV host

Guri Sultanishvili

TV host

David Thordia

A supporter of the government party

Nikusha Gabelaia


Accordingly, individuals are categorized into three groups based on their activities: politicians, TV presenters, and other individuals.


Most politicians on TikTok aim to present their image and activities to the public. For instance, Avtandil Tsintsadze, a member of the Tbilisi City Council, and Giorgi Chakvetadze, a parliamentarian, both started engaging on the platform in October. It is common for them to share supporting videos of the Prime Minister and other high-ranking officials alongside their own content on their personal pages. An illustrative example is Nino Tsilosani, whose longest video, lasting 6 minutes, is dedicated to criticizing the opposition by Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili. Among the reports from politicians, special attention is drawn to Kristina Kobakhidze's content. Kobakhidze serves as the head of the Gocha Enukidze Bureau of the Racha-Lechkhum-Svaneti Majority and is a member of the Ambrolauri Municipality Council. While his TikTok page primarily aims to build his own image, occasionally featuring more prominent figures from the ruling party, such as Tea Tsulukiani and Archil Talakvadze.

TV Presenters

TV presenters from PostTV, such as Nukri Shoshiashvili and Guri Sultanishvili, are active on TikTok. Shoshiashvili primarily shares excerpts from his show on the internet. Sultanishvili's TikTok page, while more personal, occasionally features videos containing political satire or discrediting opposition politicians. Simultaneously, POSTV's TikTok page is predominantly dedicated to content with a negative tone. Tako Mamayashvili, the TV host of Ed-Hoc Internet TV, has a page similar to Sultanishvili's, with mostly personal content and occasional videos involving civil activists and anti-Ukrainian content.

Other Persons

Observing TikTok, it was discovered that a certain pro-government opinion leader active in other social networks is also present on this platform. For instance, Davit Tordia, a well-known government supporter on Facebook, has a TikTok page primarily focused on discrediting opposition politicians, media representatives critical of the government, and the United States of America. The content often includes derogatory terms such as "slaves" and "cheap slaves," occasionally featuring obscene language. Tordia frequently employs video and photo manipulation to portray opposition politicians negatively. Alongside videos with negative content, Tordia's page also includes positive content, mainly highlighting the Georgian army and representatives of the ruling party.

Another report pertains to Nikusha Gabelaia, a long-time internet presence and vocal supporter of Kakhi Kaladze. Describing himself as a "social media user," "blogger," and "manager of social groups," Gabelaia expresses support for Dito Samkharadze and Bidzina Ivanishvili. All videos on his page convey a positive tone, featuring video collages of ruling party members. While the mayor of Tbilisi frequently appears, Avtandil Tsintsadze, the majoritarian of the Saburtalo district, is predominantly featured after the month of May. In addition to Kaladze and Tsintsadze, Irakli Kobakhidze and Irakli Gharibashvili also make appearances in several videos posted on Gabelaia's page.

It is worth noting that Avtandil Tsintsadze employs a strategy similar to Gabelaia on his TikTok page, often uploading videos that are virtually identical to those on Gabelaia's account.

Anonymous Pro-Government Campaign on TikTok

A considerable number of inauthentic pro-government, anti-Western accounts can be found on TikTok, disseminating messages that align closely with the narratives promoted by government officials.

What Messages Should Reach the People?

An analysis of the videos shared on TikTok has revealed some of the primary tactics employed by anonymous accounts and the messages they disseminate:

  1. Creating a Positive Image of Management Team Members: The individuals behind the selected accounts strive to shape a favorable image of members of the management team. For instance, popular videos featuring Irakli Kobakhidze consistently highlight his intelligence, unique sense of humor, and even portray instances where oppositional figures appreciate his jokes. Short expressions related to him often accompany hashtags like #кобахидзе #магали #хорошийс #иумори #интелектуали.

  2. Promoting the Institution, Sanctity, and Strength of the Family: Pro-government TikTok creators emphasize the significance of family values. They share videos with pathos, showcasing Mamuka Mdinaradze as a good father or presenting footage of Irakli Kobakhidze in parliament with his son. Additionally, there are videos featuring Kakha Kaladze's family. Some videos draw comparisons between the personal lives of "Georgian Dream" government representatives and those of "United National Movement" members, aiming to discredit the opposition party's representatives in terms of their personal lives.

When is Propaganda Activated?

The activation of propaganda on TikTok is notably observed during significant events such as the tragedy in Racha and the impeachment of the president.

In the aftermath of the Racha tragedy, from August to October, a total of 59 videos were published across 15 anonymous channels. The focal point of these videos is Irakli Kobakhidze. The majority of the videos were disseminated following his statement about Davit Jeladze, with the message being that Kobakhidze values Jeladze's work. Segments of an interview conducted by Irakli Kobakhidze at the Imedi TV company, where he discussed Racha, were shared on TikTok accounts using the hashtag #Рачачемижевси.

Following the Racha tragedy, another event that prompted the activation of anonymously operating TikTok channels was the impeachment of the president. Numerous videos were dedicated to the controversy surrounding Salome Zurabishvili, with a focus on the events unfolding during September and October. Across 23 anonymous channels, a total of 51 videos were broadcast about the impeachment of the president. Videos depicting the ongoing proceedings in the Constitutional Court were shared with the hashtag #martali. All distributed videos underscored the perspective that Irakli Kobakhidze is unquestionably correct, portraying the defendant—the president's defense—as dishonest and powerless against Kobakhidze.

In summary, between August and October, a total of 110 videos on TikTok were dedicated to these two events on the social network as part of a broader propaganda effort.




 Landslide in Racha 



The impeachment proceedings against Georgian President





Main Content Trends of Anonymous Accounts

Anonymous accounts disseminate the following key messages:

  • Discrediting Journalists and Critics:

  • Mocking Journalists with Out-of-Context Content:

  • Alleged Affiliations:

  • Discrediting Government Critics:

  • Manipulation of Zelensky Videos:

It is noteworthy that in some instances, there is coordinated behavior among these pages, where they either share the same video or "copyright" content from another non-authentic page.

The material they publish, accompanied by continuous reminders of the perceived "crimes" of the previous government, frequently corresponds with ongoing events and news. For instance, videos featuring Salome Zurabishvili gained little visibility until she openly denounced the attempt to pass the "Russian law." More recently, increased visibility occurred during the impeachment proceedings of the president.


On the TikTok platform, selecting appropriate "hashtags" is crucial for distributing videos on the "For You" page, reaching users interested in similar content. Inauthentic accounts frequently use hashtags aligned with the video content to maximize visibility and reach.

However, in some instances, the "hashtags" employed by these accounts are unrelated to the video content, suggesting an attempt to target a different audience. For instance, in the description of a video intended to discredit the United National Movement, one might encounter the hashtag "Jenzi." The hashtags often incorporate Gen Z vocabulary, such as "slay," observed in the hashtags associated with Irakli Kobakhidze's videos.

Coordinated network

In a study of 48 anonymous channels, it was found that certain accounts share identical video content at the same time in a coordinated manner.

Example #1

The video, in which Mamuka Mdinaradze discredits the opposition and says that it, together with the non-governmental sector, damages the national honor of the country, was shared by several TikTok accounts (georgiandream_, gamoitseret, journalists, terentigldaneli1) on the same day, June 30, in a coordinated manner with similar hashtags.

Furthermore, the "hashtags" used in videos distributed during various cam

paigns, considering the TikTok algorithm's working principle, assist in reaching diverse audiences. For example, during accusations against Coca-Cola and McDonald's for allegedly spreading LGBTQ propaganda by various media outlets, inauthentic pages utilized the following "hashtags": #лгбт #LGBT #coca-cola #кока-кола #mcdonalds #gaypropaganda #foryou #foryou #foryou.

Example #2

On September 20, geonews, Gamoitseret, journalists, terentigldaneli1, saechvo_, Khidi_, and misteraravin1synchronized the release of an edited ten-second video across their accounts. This video features Irakli Kobakhidze addressing opposition MP Khatia Dekanoidze in a manner perceived as rude.

Example #3

On September 18, Detro97 and Polit_mimebi2 jointly broadcast an identical video. This video encompasses Mamuka Mdinaradze discussing the impeachment procedure, while Irakli Kobakhidze addresses amendments to the law on broadcasting. The coordinated distribution of this video took place on the same day.


The study underscores the heightened activity of pro-government accounts on TikTok post-March 2023, notably escalating during periods of crises and scandals. This observed trend hints at a potential peak in TikTok usage coinciding with the 2024 election period. Analysis of real accounts reveals a prevalence of positive content videos, while inauthentic accounts predominantly disseminate discrediting content targeting the opposition, media, and civil society. Coordinated activities were also identified in several instances during the research.

The examination of the information field and data collection on TikTok lays a foundation for a more comprehensive understanding of political behavior on the platform leading up to the 2024 election period. In the subsequent stages, this knowledge will provide an opportunity to formulate strategies aimed at mitigating negative impacts.



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