Monday, February 18, 2019

NGOs in Georgia: Low trust, high expectations? (Part 2)

As discussed in the first part of this blog post, the results of CRRC-Georgia’s survey conducted for the Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative (CSSIGE) project in fall 2017 confirmed that both knowledge about NGOs and trust toward them is quite low in Georgia. This blog post looks at the inconsistency between low trust toward NGOs, on the one hand, and quite positive assessments of their activities, on the other hand.

The most frequent answer about the goal that, in people’s opinion, NGO members are pursuing in Georgia, is to help the population of the country in solving their problems (27%). The second most frequent answer, to receive funding/grants, was chosen from a show card by 16% of the population, and the third most frequent answer, to protect human rights in Georgia, by 13%. Thus, 40% believe the goal of NGOs is to help people in solving their problems or protecting their rights, which is an impressive share, especially given the low level of reported trust in NGOs.

When asked to assess the influence of NGOs in the development of Georgia, the findings are, again, counter-intuitive given the low level of trust. A majority (56%) assess this role as either “definitely positive” (17%) or “mainly positive” (39%), as opposed to the 14% who have chosen negative assessments (“mainly negative” according to 9% and “definitely negative” according to 5%). While 76% of those who report trusting NGOs quite logically say that NGOs’ role in the development of Georgia is positive, 5% assess this role as negative, and 13% answer they don’t know. A third of those who report distrusting NGOs assess NGOs’ role in the development of Georgia as positive and only a slightly larger share (39%) as negative.



Note: For the chart above, answer options “Fully trust” and “Rather trust” were combined into the category “Trust”, and answer options “Fully distrust” and “Rather distrust” were combined into the category “Distrust”.

It would be impossible to find out the causes of such inconsistencies without additional research. At this point, though, it is clear that both knowledge of and attitudes toward NGOs in Georgia are neither systematic nor coherent. Focus groups conducted for the same project suggest one possible explanation for this inconsistency – while not trusting NGOs, the participants’ dominant attitude was that NGOs would not do harm either. Moreover, a belief was reported that life in Georgia is better with NGOs than without them.

To have a closer look at the data, visit CRRC’s online data analysis platform.


Monday, February 11, 2019

NGOs in Georgia: Low trust, high expectations? (Part 1)

Over the last decade, people in Georgia have reported rather low levels of trust toward NGOs. At the same time, when asked during surveys to assess specific aspects of NGO activities, the answers have usually been positive. This blog post is based on the findings of a survey on attitudes toward NGOs collected by CRRC-Georgia in fall, 2017 for the Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative (CSSIGE). The first part of this blog post looks at the most up-to-date data on knowledge of NGOs in Georgia and reported levels of trust toward them. The second part explores the inconsistency between low trust toward NGOs in Georgia, on the one hand, and quite positive assessments of their activities, on the other hand.

Less than a third of the population of Georgia (28%) report trusting NGOs. Most people, though, are either indifferent (37% “neither trusting, nor distrusting” NGOs) or cannot answer the question (17%). The reported level of trust toward NGOs is comparable with the level of trust toward the courts and political parties, with one notable difference: the share of those who cannot answer the question is highest when trust toward NGOs is assessed. This may suggest that people do not always have a clear understanding of what NGOs are for or what they do in Georgia.

To gain an understanding of how solid people’s knowledge of NGOs is, the following question was asked, “I will now name several organizations. Please tell me whether it is an NGO or not. If you have not heard of any of these organizations, tell me you have not heard of it.” Two out of the 10 organizations asked about did not exist in Georgia at the time of the fieldwork.


Note: NGOs are marked with one asterisk (*). Organizations that are not NGOs are marked with two asterisks (**). Organizations that did not exist in Georgia at the time of the fieldwork are marked with three asterisks (***). Correct answers are highlighted in green.

Of the organizations asked about, only the status of the Parliament of Georgia was correctly identified by a large majority (87%). It also had the lowest share of “Don’t know” responses. Over half of the population was correctly informed about the Labor Party, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), and the Rustavi 2 TV network. It is quite rare, however, that people consistently provide correct answers about all the organizations asked about. Leaving aside the answers about the two organizations that did not exist at the time of the fieldwork (“Association of the Unemployed” and “Society for Spreading Literacy”), less than 2% of the population answered about all other organizations correctly. This suggests that knowledge of NGOs is highly fragmented in Georgia.

As seen in the table above, the population has better knowledge about the status of six organizations: the Parliament of Georgia, the Labor Party; GYLA; Rustavi 2; Aldagi (an insurance company); and Transparency International – Georgia. Yet, the share of the population who named the correct status of all these organizations is only 16%. Below, this group is referred to as the “better informed population.”

Surprisingly, the better informed population does not report trusting NGOs in Georgia at a different level than people who are less informed about NGOs. These two groups differ only when it comes to the share of those answering “Don’t know”: while 5% of the better informed population responded so, 19% of the rest of the population did.

NGOs have not yet secured the population’s trust in Georgia. Still, the population reports rather positive assessments of specific aspects of NGO activities as will be discussed in the second part of this blog post next Monday.

To have a closer look at the data, visit CRRC’s Online data analysis platform.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

New Georgian study offers insights on Russian disinformation

[Note: This article originally appeared in Eurasianet.]

A study recently conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers-Georgia confirmed widely held beliefs that pensioners and those with low levels of education are most susceptible to media manipulation. The findings suggest that Western efforts to counter Russian disinformation should focus on those groups in Georgia.

Another major finding of the study is that a solid, growing economy is perhaps the best antidote against disinformation.

The study, which was funded by USAID, was designed to enable policymakers to gain a better understanding of who in Georgia is susceptible to believing anti-Western disinformation. During the post-Soviet era, Georgia’s steadfast efforts to move closer to Western institutions, including NATO and the EU, have been a major source of tension in its relations with Russia. The two countries fought a brief, and from Tbilisi’s standpoint, disastrous war in 2008.

The CRRC-Georgia study can, in turn, help policymakers lay the groundwork for better-targeted Western initiatives to counter Russian disinformation, with the aim of reinforcing public support for Tbilisi’s embrace of Western values and institutions. Another aim is to foster a better understanding of attitudes and trends in order to reduce the odds that any new initiatives misfire and stoke the polarization of society.

CRRC-Georgia researchers pored over demographic data and developed an algorithm to hone their ability to predict whether individuals were at risk of being influenced or not by anti-Western disinformation; whether they already held pro-Russian or isolationist views; or whether they held pro-Western views.

The results showed that 55 percent of the sample size held pro-Western views, 36 percent of the sample size was ambivalent, uncertain, or inconsistent in their views and 9 percent held pro-Russian or neutral opinions.

The only mild surprise in the ensuing analysis was that a citizen’s residence in the capital Tbilisi was “no longer a significant predictor of at-risk status.”

Age is a major factor when it comes to consuming and believing disinformation: the older an individual is, the more susceptible he or she is to fake news.

“The results suggest that while one in five 18-24-year-olds are at-risk of being influenced by anti-Western propaganda, one in three people over the age of 65 are,” according to the findings.

Ethnicity also appears to have important implications for the effectiveness of disinformation. “Slightly under one in five people in predominantly ethnic Georgian settlements are at-risk of being influenced by anti-Western propaganda, while one in three are in predominantly minority settlements,” the report stated.

Those with a secondary education or better tended to be relatively impervious to disinformation, in terms of shaping attitudes about public affairs, the findings suggested.

Of those in the sample who were found to be at risk of being influenced by disinformation, many were worried about economic developments. “The economy may be a slightly more important issue for those who are at-risk, suggesting that messaging about the economy and actual economic improvement are likely to be important for this population,” CRRC-Georgia researchers wrote.

Russia’s weaponization of information has disrupted political processes in the West in recent years, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Policymakers in the West have only recently started to focus on crafting strategies that address Russian digital mischief-making.

The EU has invested in strategic communications aimed at countering Russian disinformation in Georgia and elsewhere. The CRRC-Georgia findings may help Western policymakers tweak initiatives so that they are more targeted, and thus, stand a better chance of achieving strategic objectives.

Efforts to counter Russian propaganda can take two broad forms – demand-side and supply-side. A supply-side strategy involves blocking disinformation at its source via the disabling of the source’s ability to distribute content. A demand-side strategy, meanwhile, aims to inoculate news consumers from the potentially pernicious effects of disinformation.

When it comes to the use of supply-side tactics, there are troubling ramifications for democratic societies that are built upon fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and access to information.

Given the supply-side dilemmas, developing demand-side initiatives that address issues relating to Russian state-sponsored disinformation would seem to offer a better, although potentially more difficult way forward.

Dustin Gilbreath is the deputy research director of CRRC-Georgia. The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author alone. The article was written within the auspices of the Russian Propaganda Barometer Project funded through the East-West Management Institute’s ACCESS program.