Stanford report reveals online network of ‘fake Kashmiris’ spreading pro-army propaganda

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Srinagar: On January 28 this year, Instagram and Facebook suspended the official accounts of XV Corps, also known as Chinar Corps, an Indian Army formation deployed in Kashmir. They were restored after an interval of 12 days, on February 9.

There was no immediate response from Meta, the company that owns these two platforms, but the Indian Expressciting official sources, attributed the suspension to “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.

In their response to the military, neither Facebook nor Instagram reportedly objected to a specific post, the Express said.

Per company policy, Meta flags activity as “inauthentic” and “coordinated” when directed at “deceptive” people, and rallies an algorithmic response that cripples the networks responsible for such behavior.

In another article in the same newspaper a day earlier, official sources seemed to acknowledge the presence of a “coordinated campaign”, but attributed the activity to Pakistan, where users allegedly reported Indian social media accounts en masse. , leading to their suspension.

“Officials have suggested that the content on these two platforms is similar to what they post on Twitter and is consistent with how official content is shared,” the official said. Express story read. “Every message is checked before being published, and nothing objectionable is shared from these handles.”

In a similar incident in June 2019, Twitter also suspended and then restored Chinar Corps’ official handle.

Earlier this week, however, the US-based Stanford Internet Observatory, which studies the misuse of internet technologies around the world, uncovered an unidentified online network performing influence operations, with a legion bot accounts disguised as Kashmiri users posting pro-Indian army propaganda.

Stanford’s report is based on an analysis of one of 15 information operations datasets that Twitter allegedly removed from its platform. The datasets, however, were shared with researchers from the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium.

The report said the network tweeted updates full of praise for the Indian military and that accounts tweeting them claimed to be “proud Kashmiris and parents of Indian soldiers”. Although the report did not link the manipulative activity to the Indian military, it did, however, maintain that its contents were in line with the stated objectives of the Chinar Corps.

About 1,198 accounts in the deleted dataset have been suspended by Twitter for violating their platform manipulation and spamming policy. The Stanford report believes their presumed country of origin was India.

“These networks are problematic because they pretend to be someone they are not and can give the impression that Kashmiri people have certain political views when in fact they are fake personas,” said Shelby Grossman , researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. Thread. “The network wasn’t just about fake characters. There were also many other dangerous things.

The survey refrains from attributing the network to any actor due to a lack of public confirmation from Twitter, but does highlight an interesting pattern.

The report concludes that the content of the manipulative Twitter network was in line with Chinar Corps objectives, praising the work of the Indian Army in Kashmir. “Chinar Corps’ official account, @ChinarcorpsIA, is the seventh most mentioned or retweeted account on the network,” the report said.

The report reveals that the network had posted tweets mentioning Kashmir in nearly 40,000 hashtags and GreaterKashmir.com, the website associated with the valley’s largest English-language news daily, was among the top three domains shared by the network.

The investigation also revealed that accounts linked to the network claimed to be users from Kashmir but displayed profile pictures from elsewhere on the internet. In one particular case, analysis revealed that an account was using an image that was already available to another user on the freelance website Fiverr.

Most of their biographies, according to the report, were also similar, reading, “I love my India 100% follow.”

Other accounts associated with the network engaged in smear campaigns against Kashmiri journalists and denounced critical reporting as anti-national expressions. “Tweets identifying journalists were either intended to draw journalists’ attention to events or to draw journalists’ attention to events – often in an apparent attempt to target the journalist for what was presented as anti- Indian,” Stanford’s analysis revealed. .

In particular, the investigation identified two network accounts primarily targeting journalists, activists and politicians. “The accounts had similar usernames and tweets; # Kashmiri but are working to destroy #….!!!!!Kashmiriyat’,” the report read.

Social media accounts associated with these IDs targeted specific individuals perceived as “anti-India” journalists, and branded the journalists white-collar #terrorists while accusing them of taking money from Pakistan. “Nearly 400 tweets from @KashmirTraitors received at least 500 likes,” the analysis revealed. “His most popular tweet targeted journalist Fahad Shah, imprisoned since March 2022.”

grossman said Thread that it was very difficult to determine the effects of these networks on the individuals they targeted. “But it sounds very worrying,” she said.

The report also reveals that a dozen accounts on the network mentioned or retweeted Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, a former commander of the Chinese Corps. “It has been mentioned over 1,000 times,” it read. “The Chinar Corps official account has been mentioned or retweeted 4,000 times.”

Some of the network’s tweets concerned the separatist insurgency in Pakistan’s Balochistan province while others called for a boycott of Chinese-made products. The network also posted updates on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xingjian province.

This is not the first time that a dodgy online network has been accused of engaging in influence operations, a significant part of which involved amplifying misinformation and manipulating political discourse on social media.

In December 2020, the EU DisinfoLab uncovered a massive 15-year-old disinformation campaign intended to escalate pro-establishment Indian narratives. Title “Indian Chronicles”, the investigation revealed that the operation led by the Delhi-based Srivastava Group was spread across 116 countries and targeted audiences in the European Parliament and the United Nations. The campaign was largely waged through a network of 750 fake media outlets, with activists stealing the identities of the deceased to help create an information superstructure spouting pro-Indian discourse.

Responding to allegations that their program was sponsored by the “enemies” of the Indian government, as claimed in some social media posts, Grossman said Thread that the Stanford Internet Observatory has reported on similar types of covert operations from the United States, Africa and even Pakistan.

Shakir Mir is a Srinagar-based journalist.

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