New Delhi: After revelations that more than 80,000 fake social media accounts were created on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to sabotage and push the investigations into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput into one particular direction, intelligence agencies have warned that the same modus operandi will be used in the coming days, especially to spread communal disturbances and “impact” elections and political party candidates.
Government officials, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that with social media penetrating deeply into India, foreign agencies have already started using social media as a tool to disrupt peace in the country and spread confusion and chaos.
One such example, according to an official, was seen a few months ago when Twitter users, who were later found to be based in Pakistan, created fake Twitter IDs while impersonating themselves as members of royal family of Gulf countries, and successfully created a smoke screen depicting that these members were unhappy with the “atrocities” that were taking place against the Muslims in India.
Internet users in India are going to touch 65 crore by this year end. As per data, the number of monthly active internet users in the country has grown by 24% in 2020 over that of 2019 for the same time period.
In the US, bots on Twitter, working on an agenda, became hyper active during the “black live matter” protests and were used to spread disinformation to weaken the protest by alluding fake motives to it which were amplified by the bots to reach a large number of users.
Similarly, a few months ago, researchers discovered about a six-year-old plot, operated from Russia, most likely by government agencies, including its intelligence agency, GRU, that targeted European and North American countries by working on a massive disinformation warfare that was being done with the intent to disturb bilateral tensions, attack anti-government individuals and organisations and interfere in elections in the US, France, Germany and Sweden. The content that was spread included morphed tweets of political leaders and individuals.
According to officials, the threat of India facing something similar from Pakistan was expected, but “containable”. However, it was the Chinese that the officials believe have sophisticated capabilities to carry out, in coordination with the Pakistani officials, something similar to what the Russian agencies have been doing.
“China has the capability and Pakistani officials know what is the content that will gain traction in India because of the linguistic and other related similarities. A news article in Hindi narrating a negative, but fake incident about a political leader goes viral, it can jeopardize his chance, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. Similarly, a fake video about a cow slaughter or a desecration of a religious institution can spread anarchy in a matter of minutes,” the official quoted above said.
The officer gave the example of last October when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was holding an informal summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Chennai, more than 11,000 tweets with the hashtag #GobackModi originated from Pakistan and the hashtag started trending. “Trends and social media contents are quoted in reports prepared by different world agencies, time to time and they are increasingly used to judge the popularity of individuals or the traction of issues,” he said.
The official added that the agencies were aware of the repercussions that the bots and fake social media accounts can do. “We are aware, but the needed urgency is missing. What happened in Sushant Rajput’s case (disinformation being spread through fake accounts) is not new, it is taught to officers and has been happening in other countries yet the Mumbai police, which has some of the best tools and men, was not able to realise what was happening. We need specialized tools and training to tackle future government-backed attacks,” he said.