Social Media and Reconciliation: How does Facebook Discourse influence the Georgian Context?

Whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Twitter, it’s clear that social media is influencing our daily lives increasingly. The question is - how does social media change processes of peace building? Is social media significantly influencing peace building processes through amplifying particular voices, collecting or changing the way people see the world?


On social media, particularly Facebook, there is a loud pattern of anti-occupation rhetoric among users from Georgia concerning the Russian presence in Abkhazia. The question is, does this discourse silence discussions about reconciliation between Georgia and Abkhazia, thereby limiting the potential for the two societies to build peace? And is Facebook an appropriate and effective platform for such discourse? 


These are the questions that Darejan Tsurtsumia aims to answer in their article for Corridors Proceedings Vol. II, “How Does ‘Anti-Occupation Discourse’ Shape Public Facebook Discussions About Reconciliation in Georgia?”



In 2008, Russia declared South Ossetia and Abkhazia independent states, in direct conflict with their internationally recognized status as parts of the Republic of Georgia’s territory. Tsurtsumia explores this conflict through the lens of an “anti-occupation discourse” narrative, in which she explains that many Georgians view Russia as “the only obstacle to conflict resolution”, to the exclusion of other parties, like the current residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia or IDPs from the related conflicts (112).


In 2019, Tsurtsumia explains that this discourse intensified when a member of the Russian parliament chaired “an inter-parliamentary session between Orthodox Christian lawmakers” in Georgia (112). She further explains how extremely unpopular the incident was among many Georgians, who took it as further proof that the government administration in Georgia was too friendly with Russia. Many Georgians protested and some citizens even formed the Shame Movement, which called the protests “anti-occupational demonstrations” and referred to their movement as one spreading freedom (112).


Tsurtsumia cites surveys of the public in Georgia which show a huge wave of anti-Russian and anti-occupation sentiments both regarding Russian presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia itself and the perceived influence of Russia on the Georgian government. For example, in a 2018 survey, 85% of Georgians viewed Russia as a political threat (112). Tsurtsumia also gives examples of messages on social media platforms like Facebook, from both businesses and citizens alike saying, “I am from Georgia and 20% of my country is occupied by Russia” and “Abkhazia is Georgia”, or directly discuss Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied (113).


In her article, Tsurtsumia explains her investigation into how this kind of anti-occupation discourse affects discussions on Facebook about dialogue and peacebuilding between Georgia and Abkhazia. Through her research, she evaluated the Netgazeti news site Facebook page from January 2019 to November 2020 looking at 56 posts on the page and the types of engagements that they received, from reactions to comments, both positive and negative (relative to the topic of each post). 


Reactions And The “Emotional Target” Of The Post


For the purpose of her study, Tsurtsumia divided the Facebook reactions into two basic categories: supportive and opposing. In general, “Like” and “Love” are considered supportive reactions, while “Angry” and “Haha” are almost always opposing reactions. However, the author also attempted to “understand the emotional target of the posts through not just their titles but the statuses with which they were chosen to be shared” (115). For example, she explains, sometimes Netgazeti shared a status on their post along with a link to an article, and sometimes they wouldn’t. The status itself was found to shape users’ reaction to the Facebook post, at times indicating that perhaps some users hadn’t actually read the article that was being shared. 


Furthermore, Tsurtsumia chose to analyze their findings based on the Facebook posts’ categories of discussion: IDP-Related Issues, Conflict Analysis, Youth About Conflict, Mutual Concerns, and News About Dialogue. The category that was most often engaged with by Facebook users was IDP-Related Issues (115, Table 2). 


(Table 2, page 112)


Tsurtsumia found that in all categories, the majority of reactions were supportive. However, there were two posts in the Youth About Conflict category which demonstrate how much influence the status has over the type of engagement to the post.




Tsurtsumia explains that while both posts push against anti-occupation discourse and the “Abkhazia is Georgia'' stance common in Georgian society and the international community (117). She continues to describe the first post, which features a descriptive status, both the tone of the reactions and the comments were aligned in their negativity. For the second one, the one with no status, reactions were mostly supportive. Tsurtsumia theorizes that this may have been due to the fact that there was no status. The shared article said that the woman in the title, Linda Tuzhba, only advocates for friendly relations with Georgia providing that Georgia recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. This detail was not stated in the post anywhere. 


Only one other post received more opposing reactions than supportive ones (see below).



The author suspects that the high number of “Haha” reactions, which are considered negative because, in the context of the post, they are perceived as derogatory or mocking, “could be interpreted as a lack of hope and belief in the dialogue happening, or in the efficacy of it” (117). In the majority of the posts, however, supportive reactions outweigh the opposing ones.



The Emotional Tone And Intent Of The Comments


When analyzing the comments on the Netgazeti Facebook posts, Darejan split them into four categories: Constructive/Conciliatory, Aggressive/Confrontational, Hate Speech, and Other. The latter category contains comments that have an unclear emotional intent or tonality. 


While the majority of reactions to the Netgazeti Facebook posts were positive, the majority of comments on these posts rate mostly Aggressive/Confrontational in all categories of discussion - not just overall, but also in each individual category (see Tables 5 and 6).



Identifying Anti-Occupation Discourse


Below are two examples of anti-occupational comments that Tsurtsumia chose from their research findings, both of which are categorized as Aggressive/Confrontational.

“Everything that happened back then in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was done by the hands of the ‘Russianized’ Georgians, and with the encouragement of Russia! And people running this country today are also ‘Russianized!’” Elguja U. (121)

“This man [referring to the political expert] doesn’t quit his anti-Georgian and camouflaged pro-Russian actions, which correspond completely to the Russian political context, which demands from us to have one-on-one dialogues with the so-called Abkhaz government, as if it’s not about Russia and it’s time we got used to so-called ‘new reality.’ And this is totally unacceptable for Georgia, because it will lift the responsibility off of Russia on the real occupation of Georgian territories and will legitimize the so-called ‘De-Facto’ puppet government (the only fact being that Abkhazia doesn’t have anything of its own, starting with finances and finished with army and it cannot survive without Russia for even several months!) on the international arena, when the latter has no chance to carry out the negotiations without Russia overlooking it and take on the responsibility on making more or less important decisions without Russia!” Nodar L. (121)

Tsurtsumia notes that most commenters on these posts don’t seem to accept Abkhazia as an independent actor in the conflict or Abkhazian people as a separate ethnic group. Even on posts that discuss IDPs, where reactions are mostly supportive, comments tend to skew political and talk about the “history” of the conflict and “the return,” meaning that Georgians will return to the Abkhazian region someday.  Tsurtsumia concludes that this indicates many commenters feel that Abkhazia is occupied Georgian territory, which, in their view, is corroborated by historical accounts.

Silencing: How It Happens


Tsurtsumia outlines the concept of anti-occupational silencing in different ways: directly threatening people who comment or like posts that they view as “pro-Russian,” expressing aggression toward the Netgazeti platform, and shaming other commenters for “not knowing anything about the pain of war” (123-124). 


Additionally, Tsurtsumia explains, some commenters seem hesitant or even afraid to share their thoughts if they are not directly anti-occupation. Consider the following comment:


“The direct dialogue without the third party is essential. Don’t make any conclusions beforehand. There will be people who will agree on a dialogue. Those who agree with me, please respond. I am not going to argue with those who oppose.” 

Barbare G. (123)


These types of comments may explain why there are more positive reactions and negative comments. The people who may be more supportive of peacebuilding and rational discourse between Georgia and Abkhazia express themselves through reactions. Meanwhile, the users whose views are opposing, meaning they are anti-occupation, take their opinions to the comments section where they threaten, accuse, and insult the integrity of other, more positive users, the Georgian and Russian governments, and even the Netgazeti platform itself. 



Tsurtsumia’s findings indicate that, in her words, “silencing happens and mostly because of the emotional intensity with which these narratives are being spoken” (124). In the majority of cases, comments are reactive to the post and aren’t meant to be arbiters of discussion. Rather, the commenters are trying to “identify the ‘think-alikes’ and gather followers who will share their position and legitimize their emotions” (125). This leads to an echo chamber of anti-occupational rhetoric which silences the opinions of individuals that may support reconciliation between Georgia and Abkhazia. 


In addition, Tsurtsumia found that “There is very little self-criticism or willingness to learn in the comments, almost no self-reliance, and no belief in self, governmental entities or political parties” (125). Instead, commenters tend to repeat the same line of discourse: “They explain historical or quasi-historical views, identify current enemies, hypothesize about solutions and express hopes for a brighter future, where justice is served” (125). 


As to whether or not Facebook is an appropriate platform for the “discussion” of these types of discourse, the answer is, “No.” Tsurtsumia writes, “The common freedom of speech policy of news outlets is that they do not moderate discussions on their Facebook page. Hence, as stated above, posts are frequently hijacked by one vocal category of commenters, who instill their moral superiority and set the mood for the whole discussion” (125). As such, Facebook should not be taken as an indication of the overall population’s opinion on a given topic, particularly when analyzing the comments section. 


Tsurtsumia’s article suggests the need for better platforms of discussion than Facebook - places where parties can promote rational discourse for reconciliation between opposing societies. We may or may not be able to find this option in the midst of social media, but for now, Tsurtsumia thinks Facebook isn’t the answer to the peace building question.