New Delhi: The arrest of Mohammed Zubair, journalist and co-founder of AltNews, is the culmination of a years-long campaign by a network of anonymous and inauthentic accounts linked to Vikash Ahir, state president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) and co-convenor of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in Gujarat, an investigation by The Wire has established.
The report says Zubair and his colleague Pratik Sinha were targetted by a network of anonymous and inauthentic accounts that can be traced back to the Hindutva member.
Vikash Ahir is also the city coordinator of the student wing of the Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth front of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Zubair was arrested on June 27 by Delhi police for hurting the religious sentiments of the anonymous user @balajikijaiin. He was booked under sections 153A (giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code for a sarcastic tweet using a screenshot of a 1983 Hindi movie.
The Twitter account that goes by the name ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ was temporarily disabled after the public outcry generated by the case.
According to Indian Express, police sent Twitter a notice under Section 91 of Criminal Procedure Code on the evening of June 29, asking them to provide details of the account.
“A closer scrutiny of this network of 757 accounts reveals a subset of 283 accounts which exhibited multiple characteristics associated with bot-like and inauthentic behaviour,” read the report by The Wire.
The report also suggests that people behind the network of anonymous accounts used third-party tools to automate and spam targeted hashtags related to Zubair’s arrest.
The use of inauthentic accounts to trend the hashtags targeting the journalist was further corroborated by analysis by Logically, a tech company.
Significantly, around 62% — 11,380 accounts— of this larger network that sought to manipulate public perception around the arrest were also part of the original Tek Fog network, an application used to manipulate Twitter trends.
Out of 1257 accounts that tweeted for the arrest of Mohammed Zubair tagging Delhi police, 757 accounts were part of at least one Twitter List where Vikas Ahir was the only common member.
The investigation also found out that found there are eight replica accounts of ‘@balajikijaiin’ with variations in the username, but with identical profile pictures and Twitter biographies.
The Wire had earlier exposed Tek Fog, the secret app connected to Devang Dave – a BJYM leader. Interestingly, on the day of the complaint, the @balajikijaiin account managed by Ahir, had liked only one tweet – that of @signpostindia – a company belonging to Dave.