Fake Social Media Accounts Were Used to Defame Farmers’ Protests: Investigative Report

New Delhi: Farmers protest against the Centre's three new contentious farm laws; at the Tikri Border on Jan 9, 2021. (Photo: Bidesh Manna/IANS)

A non-profit social enterprise reveals existence of coordinated efforts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to link the protest with Khalistan movement

Waquar Hasan 

NEW DELHI – An investigative report has revealed that coordinated efforts were made on social media through fake accounts to link the farmers’ protests to Khalistan movement, to stoke cultural tension and promote the claims of the government viz a viz farmers.

The report titled “Analysis of the #RealSikh Influence Operation” was prepared by The Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), which is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to identifying, countering and exposing influence operations. The report was uploaded on its website on Wednesday.

“A coordinated influence operation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is using fake personas acting as influencers within the Sikh community to discredit the push for Sikh independence, label Sikh political interests as extremist, stoke cultural tensions within India and international communities, and promote Indian Government content,” noted the report.

The report exposed a network of 80 accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which were supported by “a large network of authentic accounts which primarily identify as Hindu nationalists”.

The report found that some of the fake network’s messaging included statements calling for action such as Indian “Nationalists shouldn’t remain watching silently” and that they “need to counter & expose them [the Khalistani movement for Sikh independence]” to “save India” from “Pakistan, Canada, UK, and US”.

The fake accounts, which claimed to be the real Sikhs, produced content such as texts and memes which are aimed to “delegitimise the farmer’s movement and shift the debate away from the farmer laws”.

The narrative promoted by these accounts was similar to the statements made by some of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and mainstream news channels with regard to the farmer protests.

Commenting on his investigation, the author of the report and CIR’s director of investigations, Benjamin Strick said, “The network amplified its messaging on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram through a core network of accounts that used profile pictures stolen from celebrity social media accounts and used names common in Sikh communities to appear as legitimate members of the Sikh community.”

Before the publication of the report, the CIR shared the report with the Twitter and Meta authorities. The fake accounts identified in the report were suspended “violations of policies prohibiting platform manipulation and inauthentic behaviour”.

“Commenting on the report, CIR’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Adam Rutland, said, “The battle of narratives during the farmers protests in Delhi demonstrate that there is often more going on in social media than meets the eye. Today’s report clearly concerns indications of information warfare against minorities in India.”

The report also revealed that the fake accounts received a lot of traction on Twitter. Even public figures, verified accounts, humanitarians, and personalities have interacted and endorsed these accounts. The news outlets also embedded their tweets in their news reports.

“The fake network’s content was present as embedded links within articles on commentary and news blog sites including: Lately, Voice of India World, Asianetnews, IndiaTV, NewsCom. This is likely to have strengthened the legitimacy of the fake network’s content and increased its exposure,” noted the report.

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