Was the Twitter campaign against Pakistani journalists engineered?

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While social media bashing against journalists is not a new thing in Pakistan, it took on a different life this month.

On July 4, 2019, some politically affiliated Twitter accounts began sharing a composite photograph of 30 prominent senior journalists, with the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakistanJournalists.

The account holders alleged that the journalists in question were ‘members of the pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan media group’ and worked against the interests of the country, stoking hatred and in some cases, violence against the media.

Soon a vast networks of accounts, believed to be fake accounts and human bots generated vigorous activity around the hashtag taking it to the top of the Twitter trends in Pakistan. A vicious campaign, it was marked by abusive language, unfounded allegations and calls for hanging the ‘traitor’ journos out rightly.

The focus of the campaigns seemed to primarily revolve around two leading television anchorpersons, Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi, whose timelines were flooded with abuses and hateful remarks.

Digital Rights Monitor (DRM) – a digital media watchdog sat down to investigate the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists and the results were eye-opening.

How DRM found the campaign to be engineered?

DRM made no secret of the fact that the campaign was engineered. It said hundreds of human-bots (fake accounts) and social media teams took part in the trend and most of them used ‘vile and hateful language.’ As per DRM, the hashtag gathered 57,200 interactions within 24 hours, however a closer look into the interactions revealed that only 10 percent of them were genuine tweets while a massive 87 percent were retweets and only 3 percent replies. The statistics are particular of an engineered campaign which lacks genuine interaction.

Breakdown of interactions on hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists Image courtesy: Digital Rights Monitor

DRM’s further investigation unearthed that a single account @IK_Warrior, claiming to be the team lead of IK Warriors sent nearly 1200 tweets during the campaign. Unnatural for any genuine twitter user and another evidence of the campaign being engineered.

Top contributors to the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakJournalists
Image courtesy: Digital Rights Monitor

The watchdog said it dug deeper into the followers and retweeters of this account and revealed a beehive like structure, and a pattern of organized retweeting, which exposed a planned amplification of content.

DRM concluded in its report that the hashtag was artificially amplified through an organized network of more than 800 human-bots.

“It was clear that nearly 800 accounts were posting 6+ tweets, and a substantial majority of contributing accounts had 50 to 200 followers on twitter – two classic traits of human-bot accounts.” DRM report read.

The vile campaign against the journalistic fraternity was widely condemned by people from all walks of life. Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asif Ghafoor also cautioned against irresponsible and biased use of social media.


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