• The factory of clones of “Ilan Shor for the people”

    <strong>The factory of clones of “Ilan Shor for the people”</strong>
    20 January 2023 | 16:47

    Every day, at least 21 pages and over 100 fake Facebook profiles polish the image of fugitive deputy Ilan Shor, leader of the Shor Party. Numerous pages created in Asia received, overnight, new names and photos, now bearing the name and image of Ilan Shor, his party, and television stations. With thousands of euros pumped into sponsored posts and with the contribution of over 100 people who comment, give likes and share his posts, Ilan Shor acquires online the image of a “young politician, loved by the citizens, good manager, a man of the team, who cares about the poor people”.

    The exact amount spent by Shor to sponsor his messages published on the 20 Facebook pages cannot be known, because Meta, the company that owns the Facebook social network, only partially publishes the information about the amounts spent on advertisements, and in some cases, this information is not published at all. However, the little information about advertisements available on some of the 21 pages shows us that the amounts spent are at least in the order of thousands of euros per page.

    “Ilan Shor for the people”

    Dozens of sponsored posts, published by a page called “Ilan ŞOR pentru popor” (“Ilan SHOR for the people”, e.n.) in which the Shor Party is praised, appear in the feed of Facebook users in Moldova, starting from December of last year. The page that publishes these posts has as its profile photo the photo of Ilan Shor, and as its cover – an image with the symbols and colors of the Shor Party, on which the message “We work for the people” appears, written in Romanian and Russian.

    At least 13 pages with the name “Ilan Shor for the people” have been created in recent weeks. They all look identical, with Ilan Shor’s picture and a banner in his party’s colours

    ZdG found that, in fact, there is not just one, but no less than 13 pages with the same name – “Ilan ŞOR pentru popor”, all recently renamed. 11 of them look identical, having the same profile and cover picture, so regular Facebook users don’t realize that the posts they’re seeing come from different pages.

    Examining these pages shows that they all followed the same “route”. They were created at a previous date, by administrators from Asia, they had absolutely no activity, then, during the months of December 2022 and January 2023, they adopted the name and image of Ilan Shor and started distributing sponsored posts about the projects with which the Shor Party boasts, such as the “OrheiLand” amusement park, a repaired road or a renovated kindergarten.

    For example, one of these 13 pages was “rebaptized” into “Ilan for the people” on December 9, 2022. It was previously called “Stoke 1” and had been created on July 6, 2022.

    On January 1, a few minutes apart, two identical posts were published on this page. An unsponsored one that got just 73 reactions, and a sponsored one that got over 5,900 reactions, over 1,000 comments, and 200 shares.

    Two identical posts from the same page. The sponsored post on the left had an incomparably greater impact than the unsponsored one on the right

    Going to the page’s ad library, we see that it ran two sponsored, i.e. paid, posts, which Facebook has since removed because they violated Facebook’s Advertising Policies. Specifically, although it was a political ad, it was not properly marked. The data displayed in the page’s ad library shows that for one of the ads the amount spent was 1000-1500 US dollars, and for the other – between 300 and 399 dollars. The size of the audience estimated by Meta for each of the two advertisements reaches one million people – about a third of the population of Moldova.

    According to information in the page’s ad library, a single sponsored post costs $1000-1500

    The page is managed by people from United Arab Emirates (2), Philippines (2), Vietnam (2), East Timor (1). The other pages have “founders” from Asia too and they bear now the name “Ilan ŞOR for the people”. Previously, they had names like Courtney Vaughn, OnlineGrocerybd, ahmad_games4, 7 Eleven’s Slurpees, Jaime Ortiz, Shop Hot, Shop Đẹp.

    “Ilan Shor for Moldova”

    On January 12, three anonymous Facebook pages, with names such as “Cai Thuốc Lá Phạm Bằng” , “Mong to Vu dep116222” and “Andy Carr” , became “Ilan Shor for Moldova”. Two days later and a page with the name “Cheryl Littel” was likewise renamed to “Ilan Shor for Moldova”. In fact, you can find on Facebook over 200 pages with names identical to the four, which were renamed “Ilan Shor for Moldova”, a sign that they were all created together by Asian companies that deal with online promotion services of this kind. 

    “Ilan Shor for Moldova” pages have exactly the same profile pictures and cover as “Ilan Shor for the people” pages

    The four pages publish advertisements about the lighted pedestrian crossings in Orhei, about the increase in the price of natural gas due to the government, or about the repair of a kindergarten at the initiative of Ilan Shor. Some of these pages also promoted sponsored posts of the January 15 concert at OrheiLand, dedicated to “closing the winter season”. They announced with that the performers Gabriel Nebunu and Mariana Șura were going to sing at the concert, but they ultimately refused to participate. From the stage, the presenter of the concert announced to the people present that the two artists gave up performing due to “the pressure of the politicians, of today’s government”.

    Over 100 fake profiles that praise Ilan Shor

    In addition to being sponsored with thousands of euros, which makes them visible to a very large number of people, the posts on the pages “Ilan Shor for the people” and “Ilan Shor for Moldova” also benefit from the “support” of hundreds of fake profiles, the so-called trolls. ZdG has identified at least 130 such fake profiles, all created since September 2022, when the Shor Party started the protest actions in the center of Chișinău. The number of these fake profiles, however, may be much higher, as we only analyzed a few posts that these trolls commented on. All these Facebook profiles have no real pictures and no friends. Their profile and cover pictures are taken from the internet. Many of these profiles exclusively share posts related to the Shor Party, and others do not share anything at all, their mission being only to comment and react to posts promoted by pages affiliated with Shor.

    Left: profile without activity. Right: profile that exclusively distributes posts related to the Shor Party.

    In order to create the impression that the messages and ideas promoted by Shor, through the posts on these pages, enjoy the support, the followers give likes, share the posts and place comments praising Shor. Practically, all the sponsored posts of the pages affiliated with Shor are commented by the same “people”, with the same comments: “We love you Mr. Shor”, “Shor is a real leader, it can be seen from his actions”, “I see what makes Shor where the mayors from his party lead and there is already no need for other words and it is clear what those from PAS (Action and Solidarity Party, e.n.) are afraid of”, “Wish Mr. Shor to be healthy and strong”, ”He made Orhei a beautiful city where the sidewalk is a sidewalk, the road is a road, and the street light is a street light”, “With the Shor team at the head of the country, we have a guaranteed prosperous future”, “Those from Shor are a handful of people in the Parliament, but do as much as all 100”, “What I like about Ilan Shor is that he knows how to work in a team”, etc. In many cases, the same comment is posted by several different profiles.

    Identical comments posted by different users

    “The same narrative, shared by various users, proves that there is a concerted activity of them. What we can do is not interact with these comments in any way, because otherwise, we give them a greater chance to become popular. A better solution is to report both the comment and the fake account. We notice that after the suspension of the licenses of the television stations affiliated with the Shor Party, they focused their communication efforts on social networks, where derogatory or false information can be promoted more easily, without legal consequences”, says Andrei Fornea, social media expert.

    As part of the series of #OrheiLeaks investigations in which we revealed information from a phone of the president of the Orhei district, Dinu Țurcanu, we wrote that in one of the party members’ chats, there was attached a document called “Организация диванных войск Оргеева” in translation – “Organization of the sofa troops of Orhei”. In the same chat, it was mentioned that the document contains “the list of those who comment online”. In other words, the document mentions exactly the people who spread the theses required by the party on the internet, that is, the more than 100 fake accounts identified by the ZdG.

    “Together with TV6.md” and “First in Moldova – Первый во всем”

    Two of the televisions affiliated with Shor enjoy paid promotion too, through pages created in Asia and recently renamed, exactly according to the model of the “Ilan Shor for the people” and “Ilan Shor for Moldova” pages. Thus, on January 9 and 10, 2023, the “Shop Hot”, “Live App” and “Lui, un ragazzo canadese” pages changed their names to “Together with TV6.md”. The three pages promote, with money, the video recordings of some shows from TV6. In other posts, the link to the live broadcast of the television programs is promoted, with the message “TV6.md now ONLINE”.

    Sponsored, i.e. paid, post promoting the live webcast of Shor-affiliated TV6

    The two pages with the name “Together with TV6.md” are different from the official page of the television – TV6 MD, created in 2018.

    Sponsored post promoting the live webcast of the TV channel First in Moldova, affiliated to the Shor Party

    Also with money, through sponsored posts, the live internet broadcast of the “Primul în Moldova” (”First in Moldova”, e.n.) station, recently included in the portfolio of the Shor Party, is promoted. On January 10, the “Shop Đẹp” page became “The First In Moldova – Первый во всем”. On the same day, an image with the television logo, the link to the live-video stream and the message ” The first in Moldova now ONLINE” was published on the page, similar to the message “TV6.md now ONLINE”, also published on the pages “Together with TV6.md”.

    Internet transmission of the TV6 and Primul in Moldova programs comes in the context in which the two television stations, along with four other stations, had their broadcast license suspended in December by the Commission for Exceptional Situations.

    According to the CES Provision, the decision to suspend for the period of the state of emergency the broadcast licenses for the six televisions was taken “in order to protect the national information space and prevent the risk of disinformation through the spread of false information or attempts to manipulate public opinion, having based on the list of natural and legal persons subject to international sanctions and the available information regarding the control exercised by them over some media service providers, as well as the multiple findings from the monitoring reports of the Audiovisual Council regarding violations of the Audiovisual Media Services Code of the Republic of Moldova, implicitly the application of sanctions for the lack of correct information in the reflection of national events, but also of the war in Ukraine”.

    On Wednesday, January 18, ZdG contacted Alina Șargu, the spokeswoman of the Shor Party, to find out who manages the Facebook pages and profiles that polish the image of Ilan Shor, how much money is spent for this purpose and who pays for it. Șargu recommended us to send the questions to the party’s email address – info@partidulsor.md, however, we did not receive an answer.

    We also contacted by email a representative for Europe of Meta, the owner of the Facebook social network. We will publish the company’s response as soon as we receive it.

    Questions sent to representatives of the Shor Party:

    1. Who created these Facebook pages?
    2. Who manages them?
    3. Who pays for the sponsorship of posts on these pages and how much money has been spent in total for this purpose?
    4. Why are these Facebook ads not marked as political advertising, as required by Meta’s advertising policies?
    5. For what purpose were the more than 100 fake Facebook profiles created, who manages them, how much money is spent on them and who pays this money?

    New rules for the conduct of political advertising entered into force, which provides that “political advertising, regardless of the form and method of dissemination – advertising on fixed or mobile devices, audiovisual advertising, outdoor advertising (including temporary), advertising in print media, online advertising (including targeted advertising) – must contain the label of “Political advertising”, the identification data of the person who paid for the dissemination of political advertising, the date and number of the bank payment order, having as its object the payment for broadcasting of political advertising”.

    Pavel Postica, CEC Vice-President

    Pavel Postica, vice-president of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC): “The law on political advertising is new and other related laws, including the application of sanctions, are not brought, from my personal point of view, in line with the law on advertising. Accordingly, the possible sanctions for violating the legislation on the broadcasting of political advertising are practically absent. A general competence to examine cases regarding the violation of legislation related to the placement of advertising belongs to the competence of the Minister of Internal Affairs, i.e. the Genelar Inspectorate of Police, and we, the CEC, can and will examine such situations from the perspective of the financing of political parties, if these expenses were included in the reports on the financial management of political parties”.

    Nicolae Panfil, Promo-LEX

    Nicolae Panfil, program director, Promo-LEX Association: “Monitoring the activity of political parties and their financing, not only in electoral campaigns but also between elections, we noticed this tendency (to make political advertising online). Last year we saw a fairly large share of this kind of activity in general, and of course, we noticed this phenomenon regarding the Shor Party as well. We are documenting this information and will reflect it for the year 2022 in the next monitoring report. We welcome this initiative of the Central Electoral Commission, which has reminded the political parties about the change of these rules of the game, and it remains to be seen how the implementation of these rules by the parties will be ensured and how the CEC will supervise their implementation. We, seeing these resources as being very much used in the electoral campaigns and subsequently also in the current activity of the parties, consider this obligation to publish certain information about that advertising, i.e. who ordered it, to be able to see what was the actual amount spent. Certainly, there is room for more transparency here.”

    Anatolie Eșanu



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