Twitter has emerged as an important tool for digital organizers in recent years. It is simple to use due to its abbreviated format, which allows for 140-character conversations. Its architecture, which allows users to send messages via third-party sites such as Tweet deck as well as mobile phones via SMS, makes it fairly censorship resistant. The hashtag function, which combines tweets by subject, allows users to create intentional dialogues that increase the impact of the messages.
Twitter’s success during the Arab Spring increased its exposure, but it had already altered the face of social interaction. Celebrities who tweet have discovered an efficient and advanced way to engage with followers, while companies communicate directly with customers outside of established advertising and marketing channels.
This phenomenon is also emerging in the South Asian region, where India is engaged in information warfare against Pakistan. It has used digital channels including Twitter, bogus websites, think tanks, and fake media outlets in many nations around the world to defame Pakistan in support of its hybrid agenda and disseminate disinformation about Pakistan. This was disclosed in the EU DisInfo Lab study titled ‘Indian Chronicles’ from 2020, which demonstrated a huge Indian misinformation network against Pakistan over a 15-year period. More specifically, India has defamed Pakistan by operating a network of over 700 phony websites. According to the paper, it was a “deeper dive” into the greatest misinformation effort ever launched against any country to propagate false propaganda.
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A study has been carried out by the US-based Stanford Internet Observatory’s (SIO) Cyber Policy Centre that has further exposed such things. The center has published a report titled ‘My Heart Belongs to Kashmir: An Analysis of a Pro-Indian Army Covert Influence Operation on Twitter’. According to the study, the campaign’s primary goal was to spread the anti-Pakistan narrative and obscure the Kashmir issue, which is a common approach employed by the Indian state.
Indian Twitter Tactics:
- The network generally tweeted in English, but also in Hindi and Urdu.
- The bios had a nonsensical series of characters, a single word, or follow-back language.
- Tweets tagging journalists were intended to either bring events to the attention of reporters or to bring the reporter to the attention of followers, frequently in an apparent attempt to attack the reporter for what was presented as anti-India content
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- It has been more than three years since the August 2019 revocation in IIOJK. The BJP-led Indian government revoked Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution, which formerly guaranteed the Jammu and Kashmir territory’s unique constitutional status. Aside from this constitutional issue, the Indian government has enforced a curfew as well as a total media and communication embargo. According to Human Rights Watch, journalists, civil society organizations, and human rights campaigners have been subjected to a crackdown under the guise of counterterrorism and public safety regulations since 2019. There were two accounts in the network that targeted journalists, activists, and politicians in this manner. The accounts had similar usernames and tweets: @KashmirTraitors (created in July 2020, with a bio that read, “Busting fake news, bringing you the real truth of Kashmir”) and @KashmirTraior1 (created in January 2022, with a bio that read, “Exposing the traitors who call themselves #Kashmiri but are working to destroy #Kashmiriyat…!!!!!”
- Kashmir Traitor accounts also targeted the Pakistani government. One @KashmirTraitors tweet said: “#ISPR has raised an #astonishing network of 4000-strong highly qualified #Information Warfare specialists during the past decade through a carefully crafted internship program that is directly run by #ISI” authorities don’t want citizens to have access to Pakistani views—especially the official ones.”
- On June 27, Twitter India suspended accounts of the neighboring country’s diplomatic embassies in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and the United Nations, at the request of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Radio Pakistan’s account was also suspended.
- Pakistani journalist Murtaza Ali Shah’s Twitter account was recently suspended for allegedly promoting “anti-India” ideas.
Pakistan Response To Indian Social Media War
Pakistan’s foreign office, while urging Twitter to restore access, tweeted that the “diminishing space for a plurality of voices & access to info in India is extremely alarming.” Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, made a call to action to member countries at the ongoing G7 summit. He tweeted, “In another display of hypocrisy, India has signed a statement at the G7 summit to ‘protect freedom of expression online and offline.’ Now, #G7 have the right & responsibility to demand that India lift its massive restrictions on information, including all 🇵🇰 accounts Delhi has blocked”.
Tweets claimed that Pakistan was not safe for Hindus or Muslims, and Pakistan abandoned Pakistani citizens in China when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Tweets also criticized women’s rights in Pakistan. One suspended account shared a tweet that said, “Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under attack after he blamed women’s clothing for the rise in rape and sexual assault.”
Basically, the goal of India as part of its propaganda was to defame Pakistan, as Islamabad has always fought for Kashmiris and their legitimate right to self-determination. Multiple Twitter accounts have shared and posted about terrorist movements in Balochistan and the erstwhile FATA. This suggests that India is attempting to take advantage of the situation by publicizing the bogus demands of already-banned terrorist organizations.
Tahama Asad is a graduate of the National Defense University (NDU), Islamabad