Revealed: "Real Sikh" influence network pushing Indian nationalism
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
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 Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) investigation identified a core network of fake accounts that target other accounts supportive of Indian nationalism to spread and amplify the content and narratives generated by the core network. CIR’s report analyses the common profiles, content and tactics of the fake accounts which indicate their activity to be significantly coordinated.
The content produced by the network has endorsement from verified accounts and has breakouts on news and informational sites, where tweets from the core fake network are either linked to, or embedded in posts.
The report can be read here:
The author of the report and CIR’s Director of Investigations, Benjamin Strick, said:
“Our research shows a coordinated effort to distort perceptions and 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 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.”
“The fake accounts did not show signs of automation, but rather appear to be human-operated, acting as ‘sock puppet’ accounts with the same personas replicated over multiple platforms and repeating the same content.”
Commenting on the report, CIR's Co-Founder and Executive Director Adam Rutland, said:
“The battle of narratives during the farmers protests in Delhi demonstrate that there is often more going on in social media than meets the eye. Today's report clearly shows concerning indications of information warfare against minorities in India."
"We will continue to hold a mirror up to governments and organisations who may seek to manipulate social media platforms to distort the picture of what is truly going on in their countries.”
CIR Investigator: Benjamin Strick Reviewer: Elise Thomas
Update: Actions by Social Media Platforms
Prior to publication this report was shared with teams from Twitter and Meta that specialise in threat intelligence and influence operations.
The platforms identified in this report where the fake network was visible have policies governing their use, specifically around platform manipulation and spam (as seen on Twitter) and inauthentic behaviour (as seen on Meta).
After reviewing the findings of this report, the accounts identified and analysed in this research have subsequently been suspended for violations of policies prohibiting platform manipulation and inauthentic behavior.