Croatian NGO accuses ruling HDZ party of using bot farms on Facebook

Croatian NGO accuses ruling HDZ party of using bot farms on Facebook |

Croatian NGO Gong has investigated the HDZ’s use of Facebook and judged that its bots are deceiving citizens and manipulating the public – a problematic assessment in Croatia’s ‘super election’ year, when Sabor (parliament), head of state and EU elections are due to take place.

“Many bots, programs that automatically perform tasks to imitate human activity, support HDZ’s insulting of the opposition and manipulate citizens in a super-election year”, said Gong on Tuesday.

“Jerko Jere Kotarac, Tino Topić Top, and Tomo Toky Marinković are some of the profiles that like posts on the official HDZ Facebook page, but they are party bots – fake profiles with stolen profile photos,” said Gong.

They added that the analysis of HDZ’s Facebook page shows that “their posts are commented on, liked, and shared by several profiles with a minimal number of followers and activities”.

“Although at first, they appear to be private profiles of citizens, all these profiles are registered as pages and in unrelated categories – comedian, satire, music, health and beauty, etc. Also, the page’s creation date is often repeated, so, for example, there are several profiles created on the dates of June 13, 2023, and February 9, 2024,” explained Gong.

They also note that they ran photos of certain pages through Google Image Search and found that they were not the original photos of those pages but photos of various profiles that have been “floating on the Internet” for 10 years on X, Pinterest and various forums.

In addition to these accusations, Gong warned that the ruling party had “decided to cover up the traces of their bots, but they were not very successful because we simply exposed them“ by using the Facebook page transparency function.

“The ruling party does not stop manipulating citizens by using bots on Facebook in a super-election year, wanting to create the appearance of wider support and thereby deceiving the public,” Gong said in a statement from Wednesday.

“Using this method, we established that, after we exposed her as an HDZ bot, Jerko Jere Kotarac became Danijela Vrbelj,” Gong said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the same happened to many other bots.

Gong went on to publish images confirming the name changes of the Facebook profiles mentioned.

“Ultimately, out of 30 observed bot profiles, 15 changed their name, while 18 changed their profile photo. We searched for new profile photos of those bot profiles (pages) through Google Image Search and found that only two of the 18 bots with changed profile pictures use original photos. The other 16 downloaded their new profile photos from various internet sites, some of which are years old,” said Gong.

Gong also accused Prime Minister and HDZ leader Andrej Plenković of using the same methods as Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, adding that everything indicates that “HDZ will continue to use Vučić’s methods during the super-election year”.

Euractiv reached out to the HDZ party for a comment, but they did not reply by the time of publication.

Political scientist and sociologist Anđelko Milardović says that other parties are also present on social networks, not only HDZ, although HDZ is the most visible due to the size of the party.

“All parties will use social networks in the campaign, and HDZ especially because it has the infrastructure, tools, and an army of members, as well as bots as its digital squads. The goal of these bot farms is to divert attention from important to non-essential things,” Milardović told Euractiv.

He says that social networks have long functioned as a place where votes are “hunted for”.

“Social networks have become very important tools in politics because they bring each party a certain percentage of votes. After all, today, almost all citizens are on social networks. Younger generations especially, are at the computer 24 hours a day. The only problem is with older generations who are less present on social networks”, notes Milardović.

He concludes that social networks fit into today’s pattern of politics because they offer the possibility of posting “as short and stupid messages as possible”. Thus, they have become the basic means of “Twitter democracy”.

“Politics, after all, is only a technique for winning power and maintaining it,” concludes Milardović.

(Adriano Milovan |

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Croatian NGO accuses ruling HDZ party of using bot farms on Facebook |

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