France detects Azerbaijan-linked campaign to smear Olympic bid

AFP - [email protected]
France detects Azerbaijan-linked campaign to smear Olympic bid
The entrance of the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics (Cojo) headquarters in June 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Paris has linked Azerbaijani figures to a disinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing France's reputation as host of the 2024 Olympic Games, according to a report seen by AFP on Monday.


Diplomatic tensions have simmered between France and Azerbaijan, with the ex-Soviet country accusing Paris of supporting its arch enemy Armenia and pursuing a policy of "militarisation" in the South Caucasus.

France is pulling out all the stops to host the Olympic Games, which will take place from July 26 to August 11.

According to a report from French state digital watchdog Viginum, seen by AFP and other media on Monday, an investigation was launched in late July after "several visuals calling for a boycott of the 2024 Olympics" were widely shared on X (formerly Twitter).

The campaign featured images of riots, the city of Paris and also the logo of the Olympic Games, and involved three official X accounts of the games and two hashtags #PARIS2024 and #BOYCOTTPARIS2024, said Viginum.

On July 26 and 27, more than 1,600 posts accompanied by these visuals or hashtags appeared on X.

Around 90 accounts appear to be behind these posts "suggesting artificial amplification", the report said.

Viginum said that 40 of them were created in July 2023 and only published content calling for the boycott of the Paris Games.

The probe revealed that of these 90 accounts, "a significant proportion had at least one link to Azerbaijan" such as a photo featuring the Azerbaijani flag, Azerbaijani locations, or excerpts from speeches of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Misspelled place names -- Bordo instead of Bordeaux or Monpelye instead of Montpellier -- were another "marker of inauthenticity", the report said.


The watchdog has also identified an account at the origin of the online content targeting the Games.

The account @MuxtarYev published 15 visuals calling for a boycott, which were then amplified by inauthentic accounts and picked up by X accounts linked to Azerbaijan -- a pattern that "reinforces the hypothesis of a coordinated manoeuvre", Viginum said.

Created in June 2023, the @MuxtarYev account claims to be located in Azerbaijan.

The name Muxtar Nagiyev and the account's profile photo coincide with the identity of the chairman of the Sabail district organisation of the New Azerbaijan party, the ex-Soviet country's ruling party.

According to the report, Azerbaijani national Orkhan Rzayev, who runs two companies including Mediamark Digital, could also be linked to the smear campaign.


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