Farmers at the Ghazipur border celebrate the Centre's repeal of the farm laws Friday | ThePrint
Farmers at the Ghazipur border celebrate the Centre's repeal of the farm laws Friday | ThePrint
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New Delhi: An investigation carried out by a UK-based non-profit has found fake social media accounts of people impersonating as Sikh influencers to discredit the farmers’ protest movement in India, and label Sikh interests as extremist.

According to a BBC report released Wednesday, the research by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) — titled Analysis of the #RealSikh Influence Operation — identified a core network of fake accounts that targetted “other accounts supportive of Indian nationalism in order to spread and amplify the content and narratives generated by the core network”.

CIR is dedicated to exposing influence operations.

Eighty such accounts were found, which have now been suspended, according to Benjamin Strick, author of the research and CIR’s director of investigation. The activity on these accounts was tracked using Twitter API, hashtags and visualised data.

“Our research shows a coordinated effort to distort perceptions and 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,” 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,” Strick added.

Also read: ‘Punjabis don’t forget easily’ — farmers in Punjab cheer repeal but no props for Modi

Same profiles on multiple platforms

According to the report, the accounts claimed to be ‘real Sikhs’ and ‘proud Indians’ and used profile pictures stolen from celebrities’ social media accounts. The accounts were posting the same content on multiple social media platforms.

All these accounts used repetitive hashtags such as #RealSikhAgainstKhalistanis #Khalistanis #SikhRejectKhalistan.

“The network increased its activity since the commencement of the farmers’ protests in India. Both the farmers’ protests and the Khalistan independence movement have been the two most frequently targeted subjects of the core network of fake accounts,” the report stated.

Many of these accounts posted Army-related content, and called for ‘nationalists’ to “counter and expose” groups which they called extremists.

According to the report, many of the memes and texts produced by these social media profiles were promoting the narrative that the Khalistani movement was “trying to hijack the farmers’ protest”, and that the farmers’ movement was about ‘terrorism’ and ‘Khalistan’.

The content produced by these accounts was also endorsed by various verified accounts.

Apart from using fake images, the accounts were using the same hashtags, posting similar kinds of content, and had nearly a similar number of followers.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also read: Gandhi is back. Farm laws repeal shows even the most hostile enemy can be transformed


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