Pro-Russia Tweets In India Spark Suspicions of an Influence Campaign 

In the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Twitter accounts were linked to Russian President Vladimir V. Shared messages of support for Putin.

They tried to divert criticism of the war by comparing it to the conflicts provoked by the West. His comment – along with tweets from other users who condemned it – created the hashtag #IStandWithPutin on Twitter in some regions around the world.

While some accounts state that they are located in Nigeria and South Africa, most of the people who have a publicized location on Twitter claim to be from India and their messages target other Indian users, the researchers said.

The proliferation of accounts claiming to belong to Indian users shows that India’s social media landscape has become an important venue in an attempt to influence public opinion about the war in Ukraine. In the two weeks after the attack, users claimed that India accounted for about 11 per cent of the hashtag trend. During that time, only 0.3 percent belonged to Russia and 1.6 percent to the United States.

Fake profile pictures were used in some accounts, raising suspicions among researchers. Others retweeted thousands of his pro-Putin posts despite having fewer followers and less engagement on the rest of his tweets.

Although the activity suggests that the accounts may have been dishonest, there is no hard evidence that they were part of an integrated influence campaign aimed at changing feelings about the war in India. A Twitter spokesman said the company was still investigating.

The challenge of identifying influence campaigns is further complicated by the division of public opinion in India. While some vehemently opposed the war, others backed Russia and marched in support.

“Russia and India have a long and deep security and economic relationship,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “If you are Russia and you are facing increasing global scrutiny, increasing global sanctions, you should at least look at countries like India to stay away from as many attempts as possible to isolate Russia as humanely as possible.”

Russia’s aggression began earlier this month with the death of an Indian student in a battle in Ukraine, which focused on India’s challenge to evacuate about 20,000 civilians. Hundreds of Indian students were stranded amid heavy shelling at the time. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, who has refrained from condemning Russia, called on Shri. Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, for help.

Russia’s local embassy used Twitter Inform Indian media outlets Not to use the word “war” but instead to refer to it as a “special military operation”, as media outlets in Russia are required by law. Some Indian Twitter users reacted by mocking the embassy, ​​while others said local media outlets were inappropriate and needed notice from Russia.

Pro-Russian sentiment has gripped right-wing circles in the United States, with false information circulating in Russia claiming that Ukrainians have detonated bombs or dropped bombs on their own neighborhoods, and legends about Ukrainian morale circulating on social media platforms. But in India and other countries where social media users have joined the hashtag, pro-Russian stories have focused on ethnic hypocrisy and Western hypocrisy over war, themes that resonate with social media users.

Mark Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, said “there were dense clusters of communities associated with it, many of which were located in India or Pakistan.” IS with Putin

It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Jones said some of the most popular people involved in suspicious behavior, such as using stock photos as profile pictures, or increasing likes and retweets despite having fewer followers.

Pro-Russian messages have also been extended by Twitter users claiming to live in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. While some promoted pro-Russian hashtags, others drew attention to examples known as Western hypocrisy, such as former President Donald J. Mr. Trump. Putin.

Then Dr. Jones published his findings, with Twitter suspending more than 100 accounts, forcing #IStandWithPutin to “integrate dishonest behavior.” A Twitter spokesman said they were spammers who tried to order a conversation about the conflict.

“Since the start of the war in Ukraine, we have removed more than 75,000 accounts for violations of our platform manipulation and spam policy,” said Snyder McSweeney, Twitter’s vice president of global policy, in one. Blog post Earlier this month. “These accounts represent a wide range of attempts to manipulate the service – including opportunistic, financially motivated spam – and we do not currently believe they represent a specific, integrated campaign involving government actors.”

But some accounts in India are likely to belong to real people, Dr. Jones said. “If you can get enough people to spread the message, real people will join in,” he said. “It becomes difficult to sort organic behavior from inorganic because it’s mesh.”

In India, some right-wing groups have carried the same message. An organization called The Hindu Sena marched in the center of the Indian capital this month in support of Russia. The participants were led by the group’s president Vishnu Gupta, with the Russian flag ordered for the occasion as well as the saffron flag frequently flown by Hindu nationalists.

More than 300 activists chanted “Russia you fight, we are with you” and “Long live the friendship of India and Russia.”

“Russia has always stood by India and is its best friend. While the US supports Pakistan and does not want any Asian power to grow, “said Shri. Gupta said in an interview. “We do not believe in war. But now that that is happening, India has to go with Russia. We need to clarify our position. “

Russia’s embassy in India has also used Twitter and Facebook to promote conspiracy theories about biological research laboratories in Ukraine and to put pressure on the Indian media.

“Many influential people who tend to align themselves with Modi see at least some common cause or their own point of view that supports Putin’s brand of racial nationalism,” he said. Brookie said.

Facebook said it is working with local partners in India to check the fact of the information on its platform.

Indian leaders are navigating a delicate balance between Russia and Ukraine, its largest arms supplier, by refraining from voting against Russia at the United Nations. India has also sent medical supplies to Ukraine. It is looking for ways to maintain its trade relations with Russia, despite sanctions imposed on it by many Western countries.

But public sentiment about the war could force local politicians to choose the side, experts said.

“It’s a key, key flash point for a truly global competition for information,” he said. Brookie said. “It’s a disruptive point where a number of countries – not just Russia, but the United States, its allies and partners, as well as China – are positioning themselves.”

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