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Bots Spread Disinformation That Indian Cabinet Removed Sikhs From Army

Bots Spread Disinformation That Indian Cabinet Removed Sikhs From Army

A Logically investigation has discovered a disinformation campaign on Twitter, run by a coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) network of bots and trolls, that spread the false narrative that the Indian government has taken a Cabinet decision to remove “Punjabis” and Sikhs from the Indian armed forces. 

The CIB network shared a doctored clip that combined an audio track from the Clubhouse app with a month-old unrelated video clip of a Cabinet Committee Security meeting. The clip created the false impression that the Cabinet was talking about removing members of the Sikh religion and Punjabis from the military. Logically fact checked this claim before investigating further and discovering the bot activity. 

Identifying the source of the clip

The source of the video is a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting held in the wake of the helicopter crash on December 8, 2021, that killed Gen. Bipin Rawat. The clip can be found on YouTube and is titled “CCS briefed about helicopter crash leading to CDS General Rawat’s death”. The context of the YouTube video, ​​according to the Tribune, is essentially “The prime minister-led Cabinet Committee on Security was briefed on Wednesday about a military helicopter crash that led to the death of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and other defence personnel near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.” Nistula Hebbar, The Hindu’s political editor, tweeted the clip on December 8.

Tweet reads: Footage of the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security called in the wake of the death of Gen Rawat, his wife and 11 other personnel in a helicopter crash today.

The audio was taken from a Clubhouse session titled “Ghee Supremacy” that discussed right-wing narratives against the Sikhs. The journalist Mohammed Zubair tweeted about the Clubhouse audio. 

The quoted tweet reads: Remove every individual Punjabi. Once all the Punjabis are gone, it’ll come to light as to how efficient they actually were. All the soldiers and generals, from the top to the bottom - remove every Punjabi from the Army National Defence infrastructure.

Transcription in Hindi: Every single Punjabi ko nikaldo. Ek baar ye Punjabi nikal jaye na toh it'll come to light how effective they actually were... Sare Generals, sare soldiers, Top level se bottom tak har ek Punjabi ko nikaldo purey Army National defence infrastructure se

Transcription in English: Remove every individual Punjabi. Once all the Punjabis are gone, it’ll come to light as to how efficient they actually were. All the soldiers and generals, from the top to the bottom - remove every Punjabi from the Army National Defence infrastructure. 

Identifying the Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior

Below are screenshots of some of the main accounts that tweeted the doctored clip:

Tweets reads: Their aim is clear! Cabinet Committee on Security Minister calls for removal of Sikhs

 

Tweets says: Their aim is clear! Cabinet Committee on Security Minister calls for removal of Sikhs

 

Tweets says: Their aim is clear! Cabinet Committee on Security Minister calls for removal of Sikhs

Tweets says: Their aim is clear! Cabinet Committee on Security Minister calls for removal of Sikhs

Most of the retweets originated from @eshal_kaur’s account, which may have been the first uploader with regards to the CIB in this case. 

A similarly worded tweet about the removal of Sikhs from the Indian Army.

We found multiple instances of bots and troll activity after we cross-referenced the accounts through Truth Nest. The accounts gave reason for suspicion based on their activity, recent account creation dates, and connections to each other. Truth Nest found bot indicators of at least 40 percent for each account, and reaching as high as 80 percent.


Network analysis

Through social network analysis we found out that the accounts of @ianuragthakur and @DrSJaishankar were most often mentioned in retweets. All the accounts in red can be attributed as bots, whereas the ones in orange tend to have lower bot-like activities over a period of time.

 

We used the keyword “#IndiaStandsWithChanni v/s #BharatStandsWithModiJi” found in the screenshots to create this particular visualization. There was a clear coordination between all the accounts in red, as they were following each other and retweeting the influence operation. 

An influence operation targeting India’s secularism by using right-wing hate speech against Sikhs on social media forms the basis of its narrative. Journalists from across multiple media households in India were tagged to further increase the reach of the retweets to wider audiences. 

Conclusion

The threat from influence operations against Sikhs in India has magnified over the past few months. This particular operation was disseminated by a relatively sophisticated network of bots which quite possibly number in the hundreds. The sophistication was further enhanced by manipulating video from one source and adding audio from another to make it seem as real as possible. 

Right-wing extremism goes unchecked across various platforms on social media in India, as even the smallest of narratives spread by extremists can cause major consequences on a broader spectrum. 

At the time of writing this piece, a case was registered by the Delhi Police and an investigation was taken up. The Twitter accounts which appear to have originally propagated the video in question were @simrankaur0507 and @eshalkaur1. According to KPS Malhotra, DCP IFSO, promoting disharmony/enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony and can disturb public tranquility and is an offense u/s 153A IPC. Delhi Police advises the general public not to believe in such videos and do a proper fact check before sharing the same on social media.

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