On Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary his assassin’s name trended on Twitter. The hashtag #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद remained among the top 5 trends with around 103k Tweets at last count. Right wing Twitter handle were seen aggressively pushing the trend with a target to make it no.1. https://twitter.com/shailes33202778/status/1444213286145191939?s=20
A cursory look revealed that around 8 out of 10 Tweets using the Godse hashtag were anonymous Hindu nationalist accounts which did not carry any real name or profile photo. Almost all the Tweets were similar to each other using the same words and photos in different ways. Several Tweets also used the same hashtag multiple times without any content just to increase the count.
The trend drew sharp criticism from several people including BJP leader Varun Gandhi. “India has always been a spiritual super power, but it is the Mahatma who articulated our nation’s spiritual underpinnings through his being and gave us a moral authority that remains our greatest strength even today. Those tweeting ‘Godse zindabad’ are irresponsibly shaming the nation,” said Varun Gandhi.
This is not the first time that right wing Hindu nationalist groups have hailed Gandhi’s killer on Gandhi’s birth anniversary. Incidents of putting garland around Godse’s bust, offering him homage have been reported in the last 5-6 years. But this time the brazen Gandhi hate and its magnitude has caught larger public attention.
Netizens have expressed shock that such a large number of people were actively spreading hate and maligning Mahatma Gandhi at a time when Joe Biden had to remind Prime Minister Modi of the Gandhian values.
However, the number of Tweets does not necessarily imply that as many real people were actually hailing Gandhi’s killer. Twitter trends can be easily manipulated by using Bots and multiple anonymous accounts with just a click of a button. In 2018 a BBC investigation found that Saudi Arabian companies were offering to make hashtags hit the Trending Topics list trend artificially for relatively small sums. These companies are using networks of bots – automated accounts which are programmed to shoot out a stream of messages at a particular time,” BBC reported.
Responding to BBC’s queries Twitter told BBC in a statement, “Attempting to game trending topics is a practice as old as Trends on Twitter themselves, and over the years we’ve invested heavily in thwarting spam and other automated attempts to manipulate Trends. We take active measures to protect against trend gaming, such as excluding automated Tweets and users from our calculations of a Trend.”
As Twitter finds new ways to identify automated Tweets software coders are becoming smarter in being able to auto-generate tweets which would appear unique and organic. A climate activist who chose to remain anonymous claims to have invented such a ‘language or code’ which can generate around 2000 unique Tweets containing the desired hashtag, photos, and videos, profile tags from just 20 original tweets all based on something as simple as a Microsoft excel sheet.
This reporter has personally observed the said process. It required one individual to compose around 25 original Tweets and put them on an Excel sheet. The photos and videos to be attached to each Tweets were posted on Twitter prior to the day chosen for the trend. Once a media is posted on Twitter it gets its own unique link which was copy-pasted on the column adjacent to the Tweet content column. A secret software/language was used to generate over 2000 unique Tweets all carrying the hashtag, photos and videos. Once the large volume of Tweets were generated the excel sheet became the background to a web interface where words such as “Tweet about our cause” were used to invite people from anywhere in the world to just send out a Tweet at just one or two clicks. With each click the website would freshly generate a unique Tweet. It helps ‘volunteers’ or ‘supporters’ to weigh in without having to make the efforts of articulating and composing their original thoughts and opinions. The same method can be used to support a hate trend or a climate change trend.
“A casual analysis of the Godse Zindabad trend shows that ‘Twitter intent link’ or ‘Tweet button’ has been used to generate these Tweets. It is one of the go-to-tool for the right wing IT cells. They use Captcha breaking software to create multiple Twitter accounts. Bulk phone numbers list are illegally obtained from telecom companies to verify such accounts. BJP might have some kind of understanding with Reliance Jio. Lastly, if a few Twitter blue tick holders (Verified profiles) follow these accounts they appear relevant to Twitter algorithm. Which explains why PM Modi follows so many bots,” said the climate activist.