Indian fake media network targeting Sikh farmers, Khalistan Movement exposed in UK researchNovember 27, 2021
The UK-based Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) in its investigative report has exposed a fake Indian social media network with profiles of Sikh influencers created to target the farmer protests in India as well as the Khalistan Movement.
According to Kashmir Media Service, the CIR in its report titled ‘Analysis of the #RealSikh Influence Operation’ exposed a network of 80 accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which were supported by “a large network of authentic accounts which primarily identify as Hindu nationalists”. All these accounts used repetitive hashtags such as #RealSikhAgainstKhalistanis #Khalistanis #SikhRejectKhalistan.
The CIR is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to identifying, countering and exposing influence operations.
“A coordinated influence operation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is using fake personas acting as influencers within the Sikh community to discredit the push for Sikh independence, label Sikh political interests as extremist, stoke cultural tensions within India and international communities, and promote Indian Government content,” the report says.
It says the fake accounts, which claimed to be the real Sikhs, produced content such as texts and memes which are aimed to delegitimise the farmers’ movement and shift the debate away from the controversial farm laws. The narrative promoted by these accounts was similar to the statements made by some of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and mainstream news channels with regard to the farmer protests, it adds.
The report maintains that some of the fake network’s messaging included statements calling for action such as Indian “Nationalists shouldn’t remain watching silently” and that they “need to counter and expose them [the Khalistani Movement for Sikh independence]” to “save India” from “Pakistan, Canada, UK, and US”.
The report points out that the network stepped up its activities since the commencement of the farmers’ protests in India. “Both the farmers’ protests and the Khalistan independence movement have been the two most frequently targeted subjects of the core network of fake accounts. The content produced by these accounts was also endorsed by various verified accounts who worked with these accounts, suggesting that there was a coordinated government backed activity,” it says.
The report says that many high-profile accounts were found to be involved in focused targeting of Sikhs For Justice’s General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is running the Khalistan Referendum campaign for the separation of Punjab from India. All these accounts that published Pannun’s cartoon memes called him a Pakistani agent, fake Sikh and enemy of India and Sikhs.
The author of the report and CIR’s director of investigations, Benjamin Strick, commenting on his investigation said, “The network amplified its messaging on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram through a core network of accounts that used profile pictures stolen from celebrity social media accounts and used names common in Sikh communities to appear as legitimate members of the Sikh community.”