A British nonprofit that previously uncovered crimes against humanity in Myanmar as well as Chinese propaganda from fake social media has now exposed a coordinated plot to link protesting Indian farmers to Khalistanis through inauthentic social media posts.
The provocateurs have not been identified, but what connects the fake handles is the propaganda that supports the Indian government’s narrative of farmer unrest, separatism in the Punjab, and the glorification of Indian troops.
The report titled “Analysis of #RealSikh Influence Operation,” published online by the Center for Information Resilience (CIR), found a network of 80 fake social media accounts leading the propaganda.
“In the content produced by the fake network, many memes and texts promote the narrative that the Khalistani movement was” trying to hijack the farmers ‘protest “, which is an attempt to delegitimize the farmers’ movement and move the debate away. of the farmer’s laws and in what the accounts claim to be a problem of “terrorism” and “Khalistan”….
“The fake accounts don’t show signs of automation, but rather appear to be operated by humans, acting like ‘puppet’ accounts with the same characters replicated across multiple platforms and repeating the same content,” the report said.
The report says there was a “coordinated influence operation” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using fake personalities acting as influencers within the Sikh community to discredit the farmers’ movement.
In a section titled ‘Implications for India’s Political and Social Cohesion’, the report states: ‘The continuation or expansion of network activity therefore risks reducing cohesion within the Sikh community, weaken trust and understanding between the various religious communities of India and increase social divisions which could undermine the stability of one of the world’s largest and most diverse democracies.
“The network’s advocacy that supporters of Sikh independence are extremists or terrorists, and that Indian nationalists need to take action against them, may contribute to an environment in which some actors view intimidation or violence against the community. Sikh as legitimate.
Several BJP politicians, including ministers, at the Center and in the states also described farmers opposing the three new farm laws as Khalistani terrorists and Maoists backed by Pakistan and China.
The Union’s interior ministry and that of electronics and information technology have not yet responded to questions from this newspaper on whether action will be taken on the results.
Earlier this year, Twitter revealed that a quarter of all content removal requests received from public authorities came from India. In the past, similar investigations by foreign and Indian groups have put the Indian government in the spotlight for allegedly supporting disinformation campaigns by inauthentic entities to counter Pakistan and promote its own narrative on world affairs.
Campaigns from fake Facebook and Twitter pseudonyms were also exposed during the 2019 parliamentary elections.
The CIR said Twitter and Meta – which runs Facebook and Instagram – suspended the fake accounts they reported to them.
A spokesperson for Meta told The Telegraph, “We have deleted these accounts for violating our inauthentic behavior policies. They misled people about the origin and popularity of their content and used fake accounts to spam people and evade our app.
However, neither Meta nor Twitter responded to this newspaper’s question whether the source of the disinformation had been identified.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, who leads the farmers’ movement, responded to the revelations by saying that he was “concerned about the division agenda being promoted in this way, and calls on citizens to be very vigilant about this virtual strategy to draw up the citizens against each other. ”.
“The BJP and its supporters have not hesitated to use various strategies to attack the peaceful movement, even as the government has done everything possible to suspend and shut down the accounts of supporters of the protesting farmers,” Morcha said.
The online campaign appears to have had some success.
Ravinder Singh, CEO of Khalsa Aid, an international nonprofit that supports victims of natural and man-made disasters, tweeted: “Most FAKE accounts are so obvious and yet our own real guys are joining in. them to attack other Sikh militants !! “
The CIR added, “The core of the network is made up of accounts positioning themselves as true Sikhs, while their content is amplified by accounts identifying themselves as Indian nationalists. This suggests that the influence operation may target audiences within the Sikh and Hindu communities. The profiles of the fake accounts, their adoption of common Sikh names, their use of similar or even identical hashtags and spam content, and our analysis of their interactions with other Twitter users, suggest that their activity is coordinated.
Some of the hashtags used included #Khalistanis, #RealSikhsAgainstKhalistan, #SikhsRejectKhalistan and #ShameOnKhalistan. The fake accounts used multiple images of Punjabi celebrities and even a Pakistani celebrity.
Researchers observed little Punjabi content. “This may be because the network’s target audience is not language specific (using English rather than Punjabi or Hindi specifically), or because the people who operate the influencer accounts Sikhs are not able to write enough Punjabi text, ”they said. noted.
Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma tweeted: “Suspending these fake accounts is not a solution. They must be apprehended and punished.