Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani Officials Launch Disinformation Campaign Targeting France and New Caledonia

Baku Linked Individuals Involved in Coordinated Social Media Campaign Targeting France Over New Caledonia Unrest

A recent investigation by RFE/RL has uncovered ties between several individuals associated with Azerbaijan’s ruling party and a coordinated social media campaign targeting France in response to the unrest in New Caledonia. The campaign, which involved spreading disinformation through misleading photos and videos on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), resulted in the suspension of dozens of accounts.

The investigation revealed details about those linked to the suspended accounts, including their roles within the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), led by President Ilham Aliyev. Aliyev, who has faced criticism for repressing rivals and limiting civil rights, has denied any involvement in the online campaign targeting France.

The French government’s watchdog for online disinformation campaigns, Viginum, highlighted the use of hashtags such as #RecognizeNewCaledonia and #FrenchColonialism by Azerbaijani social media accounts spreading anti-French propaganda. Analysis showed that the most active accounts using these hashtags were based in Azerbaijan.

The unrest in New Caledonia, triggered by proposed electoral changes and economic disparities between the indigenous Kanak population and European settlers, resulted in violence and prompted France to declare a state of emergency in the territory. Azerbaijani flags were observed at the protests, with reports of political activists in New Caledonia being in contact with Azerbaijani organizations supporting independence movements in French territories.

The strained relations between Paris and Baku further escalated following Azerbaijan’s control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, leading to accusations of social media smear campaigns targeting France. Past instances of campaigns aimed at undermining Paris’s capacity to host the Olympic Games have also been reported.

The investigation uncovered doctored images and videos shared as part of the campaign, leading to the suspension of accounts belonging to individuals with connections to YAP. Despite the denials from Azerbaijani officials, the involvement of these individuals in spreading disinformation raises questions about their roles within the party and the government.

As tensions continue between Paris and Baku, the use of social media to influence public opinion and sow discord highlights the evolving landscape of online disinformation campaigns. The impact of such activities on diplomatic relations underscores the importance of vigilance in identifying and countering coordinated efforts to manipulate information and narratives on social media platforms.

 

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