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Coordinated campaign? India #1 source for pro-Russia tweets amid Ukraine war, says Ashoka study

Study by Ashoka University’s Centre for Analysis of Network Data & Insight Derivation looks at pro-Russia & pro-Ukraine tweets between February, when the war began, and May.

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Bengaluru: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been dominating headlines across the globe and Twitter trends are no different. Now, a country-wise analysis of tweets on the subject has revealed that India-based handles were the number one source of pro-Russia tweets between February, when the war began, and May this year.

Research conducted by Ashoka University’s Centre for Analysis of Network Data and Insight Derivation (CANDID) also shows that a dip in pro-Russia tweets by India-based Twitter users was followed by a decline in the total number of pro-Russia tweets.

This, according to the research document shared with ThePrint, “suggests a coordinated effort may exist from India-based users to propagate a narrative that is pro-Russian”.

“The average number of pro-Russia tweets from India during 1 March to 7 March was approximately 35x the daily average tweeting activity in the following weeks when the trend died down,” the research suggests, adding that “tweets going viral combined with coordinated bot activity seems like the most plausible explanation”.

In the three months since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, the conflict has resulted in at least 8,000 casualties. Russian troops are now carrying out the third phase of their “special military operation”, with all their focus centred on the Donbas region.

The research by CANDID looked at 6,88,107 tweets posted between 24 February and 6 May by users from around the world. These tweets were sorted into two categories — pro-Russia or pro-Ukraine.

For instance, tweets with hashtags like #IStandWithRussia, #IStandWithPutin, #Glorytorussia were considered pro-Russian, while tweets with hashtags like #IStandwithUkraine, #StopRussia, and #IStandWithZelensky were considered pro-Ukrainian.

Of the over six lakh tweets examined by researchers, 5,99,840 tweets were pro-Ukraine, while 88,267 were pro-Russia.


Also Read: Ten days after they beat a hasty retreat, Russian troops are back in Kharkiv


Tweets on Russia-Ukraine war declining

In order to identify which country a tweet was originating from, researchers performed location-based analysis of Twitter users who had enabled their IP addresses. Of this subset of 71,424 tweets, a large chunk (68,905) were pro-Ukraine, while 2,519 were pro-Russia.

The researchers also noted that, even though India-based handles accounted for the highest number of pro-Russia tweets, the number of India-based handles posting pro-Ukraine tweets was higher. 

Twitter users from the US were the source of 20.2 per cent of pro-Ukraine tweets, followed by those in Ukraine with 14 per cent, the UK with 7.8 per cent, Germany with 6.7 per cent, Italy with 5.4 per cent, and India with 5 per cent.

Meanwhile, Twitter users from India were found to be the source of 23.8 per cent of pro-Russia tweets, followed by those in the US with 13.5 per cent, and Netherlands with 12.5 per cent.

“The average number of pro-Russia tweets from India between 1 March and 7 March is 84.8 per day. Since then, pro-Russia tweets from India have reduced with the average number of pro-Russia tweets between 7 March and 6 May at 0.85 per day,” the researchers found.

For example, the following Twitter accounts with India-based IP addresses were used to post pro-Russia content, using either the same image, words, or both, all within 24 hours on 2 March.

 

Apart from a dip in pro-Russia tweets originating from India, the research also shows a similar dip in the overall pro-Russia tweets, as illustrated by the following graph:

Courtesy: CANDID, ASHOKA UNIVERSITY
Courtesy: CANDID, ASHOKA UNIVERSITY

“Tweets carrying both the pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia hashtags have been declining, showing that interest in the matter is waning,” the research by CANDID says. This, at a time when Russian bombardment of disputed regions in Ukraine has been “intensifying”.

India-based handles with most tweets on Ukraine war

The study identifies 5 accounts as those tweeting most frequently on Russia-Ukraine. This includes the account of news portal WION’s diplomatic and defence correspondent, whose verified account is a source of latest developments from around the globe. He posted 523 tweets on the Russian invasion.

The other four are @BiktamJSBarman (2,562 tweets), @p_jaikumar (489 tweets), @Debasis344 (473 tweets) and @profnnegi (316 tweets).

@BiktamJSBarman was set up in September 2020, and has 11,700 tweets. The description of this Twitter handle reads: “Student *Views personal*”

@P_jaikumar, created in 2011, has 2,38,800 tweets. This Twitter handle has the description “Retired as Executive Engineer from Power & Electricity department”.

The handle @Debasis344 identifies the user as a creator, political analyst, social media activist, student”, and has 5,634 tweets.

@Profnnegi, whose account has no Twitter bio, has 1,105 tweets.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)


Also Read: McDonald’s Russia exit is about public pressure, not social good. Being ‘woke’ is profitable


 

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