Social Media and Policy: A Case Study- Georgia

The following post is a second case study on the relationship between government social media presence and policy outcomes, which will eventually be incorporated into a comprehensive research paper.[1]  It follows the same format and uses the same methodology as the previous case study.

I. Brief on Ecuador

In the original regional overview, Georgia, along with both Iran and Ukraine, were called out for further study.  Georgia’s poverty and inequality have both declined since the establishment of social media accounts.  Additionally, those three nations’ domestic political environments are complicated by contentious foreign relations, making their policy successes all the more interesting.[2]

As evident below, many of Georgia’s policy indicators have held relatively steady for decades.  The country is considered in the “high human development” HDI group and is ranked 70 overall.  In short, Georgia is another high literacy, high access to resources country like Ecuador, meaning there is a large populace that could effectively use new technology to support political and policy interests.[3]

Georgia Outcomes

[4]

We Social data supports this outlook.  “Western Asia” has 65% internet and 55% social media penetration, while Georgia itself has 2.6 million active social media users (67% of the population).  The share of social media users rose 18% between January 2017 and January 2018, despite middling scores for mobile network infrastructure and affordability of devices and services (53.16 and 68.42 out of 100 respectively).

Like in Ecuador, Facebook dominates among social media platforms in Georgia, and We Social data shows that nearly every social media active Georgian is Facebooking.  Unlike Ecuador, Twitter use did not crack 10% between April 2017 and April 2018, meaning that analyzing Twitter presence as I do below is not only an imperfect measure of how social media is being used in the country, but is also an analysis of messaging that has only reached a small portion of the population.  In short, we will not know as much about the key relationship, between policy outcomes and social media use, as we learned by studying Ecuador.

Georgia Platforms.png

II. Statistical Analysis

a. Poverty, Gini, and Accounts

As in the previous Ecuador case study, I used correlation and regression analysis to determine the direction and scale of any connection between the number of Twitter accounts and policy outcomes, namely poverty headcount ratio and Gini coefficient.[5]

The correlation coefficients are -0.68 and -.38, showing that as Georgia’s Twitter presence rises, poverty and inequality are falling, and the relationship is stronger than in the Ecuador example.

Key statistics for the regression analysis are below, showing that the model is a poor fit for cumulative account count and Gini and barely significant.   The relationship between count and poverty is stronger and statistically significant, although there may be a non-linear relationship.

Statistic Count and Poverty Count and Gini
R2 -.468 0.15
Coefficient -1.98 -0.35
T-statistic -4.89 -1.08
P-value 0.000625 0.0824
b. Voter Turnout and Accounts

Although I did conduct an identical analysis to evaluate the effect of voter turnout for Ecuador, the sample sizes for Georgia are even smaller (8 and 5), far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.  However, previous research showed that participation in social media in Georgia did not impact election results, that political parties use the networks to inform rather than rally, and that social media has played a role in shifting public opinion before.[6]

III. Background

Georgia has a complicated history as an international, multi-ethnic, trans-continental global crossroads.  Its recent history has contributed to complicated foreign and domestic relations, as outlined in the timeline below:

Georgia Timeline.png

[7]

The Freedom House rates the Georgian press, and the country overall, as “partly free,” with middling scores on the legal, political, and economic environment.  The media is tied too close for comfort to political interests. Georgian Dream representatives have been critical of the industry and specific outlets in the past, while a popular television station has ties to the opposing United National Movement.   Despite legal protections, many from the last few years, enforcement is problematic.[8]

Although not mentioned by recent Freedom House reports, it is possible that Russia has and might continue to influence Georgian media messages. (See https://jamestown.org/program/anti-western-propaganda-georgia-grows-strength-sophistication/, https://idfi.ge/public/upload/russanimpactongeorgianmediadaNGO.pdf) As obvious from the timeline above, Russian influence has played a profound role in both Georgia’s history and foreign policy, and that is reflected in its governments’ tweets.

IV. Account Analysis

As was the case in the Ecuador case study, I read and coded recent tweets from Georgia’s two active and verified government accounts from the 2017 Twiplomacy data set, following the same method I used there.  Those accounts are the current Prime minister’s personal account and official institutional account of the ministry of foreign affairs.

Name Creation Total Tweets Followers Following Tweets/day Since Creation Interaction Rate
Giorgi Kvirikashvili 04 JAN 2016 662 7,018 145 1 1.52%
MFA of Georgia 28 MAY 2011 2,521 14,825 619 1 0.22%

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs account follows the foreign minister/vice prime minister, Mikeil Janelidze, mentioning his account in 54% of all analyzed tweets and occasionally tweeting in real time.

@MFAgovge mentions other accounts, including the foreign minister’s, 80% of the time, as the posts follow day to day diplomatic activity (in 78% of all tweets).  22% of the tweets are intended to build community, but the intended audience is primarily on other governments (100%. Government to citizen communication is evident in only 46% of community-building tweets, but 85% of informative tweets).

The account is supporting international community-building, but also aligns with the Georgian foreign policy agenda and talking points.

Likewise, the Prime Minister’s account supports the Georgian foreign agenda and international community-building.  66% of his tweets are community-building; address other governments in 85% of those tweets; and mention events in 96% of tweets (specifically diplomatic issues in 62%), compared to mentioning specific policy issues in only 28%.

Compared to Ecuador, community building (44% of all analyzed tweets from both accounts) focused on the international community, not just domestic.  Additionally, the accounts seem to work towards mutual objectives to a greater extent, likely due in part to both representing current office holders.  However, shared external objectives, more reserved messaging, and less frequent tweeting may all be keys to presenting a uniform and unified Georgian government social media presence to the world.  This presence could positively impact investment and strategic partnerships at a politically and geographically contentious global crossroads and may be helping Georgia construct a “collective international identity.”

Account Average likes Average retweets Average comments Primary type Most RT’d account Most mentioned account Most mentioned policy subject Days[9]
KvirikashviliGi 86 34 2.7 O (94%) European Union (32%) 120
MFAgovge 29.5 22 .4 O (78%) JanelidzeMkh (36%) JanelidzeMkh (68%) NATO (50%) 7

V. Discussion and Conclusion

Georgia’s accounts work in tandem to build community and an external national persona.  This is probably due to national efforts to pacify the Russian threat and court international security support bi- and multilaterally.  Georgia’s geography means it needs strategic partners, which the Georgian accounts actively include in celebratory commentary on diplomacy.

The question then remains: could this external focus have been helpful for policy internally? Can a good social media game help provide protection from external threats, and if so what role does that play in domestic policy outcomes? It may be that the image of stability and community attracts foreign investment.  Other than the obvious benefits of peace and trade, one of the possible economic benefits of external engagement may be idea sharing.  For a former member of the Soviet bloc, social media may play a role in exposing and nationalizing foreign ideas and systems like economic liberalism and collective security.  In this way, the accounts not only project the Georgian image, but reflect global values and shape them in a national context for an internal audience.

However, Twitter is not the main social media platform in Georgia, and the analyzed behavior may not be representative of all Georgian government accounts across all platforms.  Additionally, there is not enough data to establish a strong relationship between Twitter activity and election participation, so the casual relationship between social media and policy in Georgia is even more up for debate.  There is also less statistical evidence of a strong relationship between social media presence and policy outcomes.

There is evidence that Georgia’s unique geopolitical situation may have shaped their approach, while Ecuador’s realities shaped theirs.  Ideally, then, they would have distinct communications strategies to reflect different values and support different objectives.  Going forward, this means that we should see a whole different national Twitter character playing out in Iran, our next case study.

[1] Paper will include original analyses (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), literature review, and five total case studies (Ecuador here).

[2] The region for comparison was the most disjointed and eclectic, including 24 African and Eurasian countries representing a huge diversity of political, cultural, and economic situations.  However, these three case studies represent multiple perspectives from across the “region” and complement the other case studies.  They add political, economic, and cultural diversity to a group with a superficially similar pattern progress.

[3] Literacy and education data were spotty and are difficult to properly visualize.  All data points for both metrics are above 91%.

[4] See above for additional information on literacy and education data.

[5] For more information on the methodology, please see the Ecuador case study here.

[6] In the interest of transparency and to avoid the perception of excluding results unfavorable to my thesis, the correlation coefficients for cumulative account count and parliamentary and presidential voter turnout are -0.58 and -0.70.  These strong negative relationships go against my directional thesis, that social media presence could help increase voter turnout among other outcomes.

[7] Sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17301647

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17303471

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/event/georgia-update-caucasus

https://www.cia.gov/Library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gg.html

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/georgia

http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/08/24/world-bank-georgia-25-years-of-partnership

[8] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/georgia

[9] Covered by the 50 tweets (indicates rate, where a higher number of days indicates fewer tweets per day)

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