Last week the Swedish news agency TT reported that Azerbaijan had discovered what it claimed to be mass graves from prior conflicts in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. At the time, TT was unaware that the social media campaign surrounding this news was well planned by the Azerbaijanis. Blankspot has analyzed how the Azerbaijani regime uses bots and troll factories to propagate sympathetic views towards the country.
On October 5, the Swedish TT news agency put out an article that Azerbaijan had found mass graves in Nagorno-Karabakh. The story got republished in about fifteen major Swedish media outlets, among some of the largest in Sweden.
The article’s primary source was Hikmet Hajiyev, personal adviser on foreign affairs to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who wrote a tweet. The content of his tweet was shared over a short period on September 19 thousands of times on Twitter, both from Hajiyev’s account and others with similar content.
After criticism from many people, the Swedish-Armenian historian and peace and conflict researcher Vahagn Avedian about the factuality of the text and whether Hikmet Hajiyev is a credible source, concequnelty the appointed head of news for foreign affairs at TT, Pontus Ahlmqvist, regretted the mistake.
On Twitter, he wrote: ”We generally try to include context and caveats when we quote information from authoritarian regimes that we have not been able to verify ourselves. The Armenian information on war crimes could, for example, have been included here. We take the criticism to heart.”
The news came just days after top diplomats from several countries, including the US, France and Norway, condemned Azerbaijan for gross war crimes during the September 13-14 invasion of Armenia. There is no TT article about this.
The question of how a tweet from an authoritarian regime could go through TT’s fact-checking can say something about the Azerbaijani regime’s tactics on social media.
With the help of Twitter user @Bedig_A , who developed software that utilizes Twitter’s publicly available APIs, we provide insight into how the Azerbaijani regime’s propaganda operates on Twitter. The data Blankspot investigated the source of a tweet, the number of interactions, engagements and connections between different accounts. For example, whether one account interacts with another and at what times this happens.
In other words, the software can produce statistical analysis about different users’ behaviour on Twitter. Based on