Bulgarian MEP Iliyana Yotova, from the group of the Party of European Socialists (PES), has used services of the company „Leadway Media Solutions“ for favorable positioning online, for advertising and promoting her political activity, and for black PR against EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. For this purpose, anonymous comments have been posted on Facebook and 28 news sites. The revelations are part of documents that leaked anonymously through the sharing platform Balkanleaks.eu.
The sender of the documents is using as proof of Yotova’s cooperation with “Leadways“ a video from her email address [email protected]. The video shows correspondence with Aneta Avramova, who is a PR specialist and official representative of „Leadway.“ In a communication from January 13 this year, Avramova writes that it is a pleasure for her to be part of Yotova’s team.
These documents, obtained by Bivol, also contain an offer from „Leadway“ to Yotova to improve visibility on the internet, made on September 10, 2013. A „comments campaign – 50 / month in forums and 150 / month on Facebook“ is included among various measures. The offer is for a period of 10 months.
Trolls Sing Yotova’s Praise
The content of disseminated opinions is shown in Annex 3, which is an account of the campaign with internet users’ activity. These users are actually fake profiles created by Leadways that „during the reporting period have published 123 posts of which 53 in forums and 70 on Facebook.“ Forum comments cover 28 online media and their content and links to them are provided in a separate annex.
Messages to be promulgated by these false commentators, known as „paid trolls,“ are also formulated. They are related to specific activities of Iliyana Yotova as European politician – mainly the problem with refugees and the establishment of an EU fund for Fisheries.
Comments are mostly flattering and fawning and usually begin with „Mrs. Yotova is right …“, „We agree with the red (socialist – editor’s note) MEP …“, „Mrs. Yotova is very active when protecting Bulgarian interests …“ and other sycophantic addresses. The full list of options to search the comments is posted on the site Balkanleaks.
Attack on Kristalina Georgieva
In addition to the paid forum love, criticism and custom-tailored black PR against Bulgarian EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva add an inglorious feature to Yotova’s campaign.
„The EU Commissioner did nothing; I hope that this UN High Commissioner will help us. But, apart from technical and financial assistance, we need now solidarity from other EU Member States. They must take some of the refugee influx ….“
This comment is written under an article in the newspaper „24 Hours“ by a troll with the nick toti on November 22, 2013, two months before Yotova was to be accused by European Socialists of attacking the work of the Bulgarian Commissioner. Black PR against Georgieva is propagated in other online media as well.
„Commissioner Kr. Georgieva did not do anything to solve the problem with Syrian refugees in the country. Hopefully, the UN High Commissioner will do better. Our MEPs should have organized a roundtable on the issue and the debate should have been webcast for people to understand what is happening!“ (From the site actualno.com, the original spelling in Bulgarian, where debate is spelled like something of the sort of dibate, is preserved in the Bulgarian version of this article – editor’s note.)
It was not before February 5, 2014, when European Socialists asked Yotova whether, in her comments in Bulgarian media, she has indeed questioned the work of Kristalina Georgieva. This was made clear from an email that PES MEP Thijs Berman sent to Yotova, with CC to Hannes Swoboda, and which Bivol has.
In early December 2013, Yotova received a detailed report of the campaign, carried out from November 14 to December 1 (see the PDF file). All activities to optimize her site with keywords, the reactivation of her profiles in social networks Facebook and Twitter, and video channels on Youtube, are described in detail.
However, the company has used some pretty questionable methods from ethical viewpoint, such as creating a „covert group“ that is „used as an additional channel through which to promote the opinion of MEP Yotova on the most current issue at the moment in Bulgaria. The group in question is „WHERE IS THE MONEY OF THE REFUGEES?“ „In the group we upload news stories to comment on with our profiles so as to distribute their views on the topic,“ “Leadway” explain.
Who is paying?
Documents received by Bivol do not make clear how „Leadways’“ campaign was paid or who pays for the participation of PR Aneta Avramova, from the same agency, in Yotova’s team. She does not appear on the list of the MEP’s official assistants.
It should be noted that each MEP has a spending allowance of 4299 euros per month for so-called communication and office costs, which can be spent almost unaccountably. This money is not included in the amount provided for assistants in the teams of European MEPs. This sum reaches 21000 euros per month and is officially paid as wages by the European Parliament.
To clarify these monetary details Bivol approached the press offices of PES and the European Parliament with the question whether this „communication“ campaign of Ms. Yotova, which includes candid black PR against a European politician, could have been paid with PES money or from the budget of the European Parliament?