Two Twitter bots — one in support of and one in opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — made a massive attempt to boost traffic on the platform in India in February as the world’s largest democracy prepared for the General Elections, a new report has found.
The US-based Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR Lab) revealed that the pro-Modi traffic was far more heavily manipulated than the anti-Modi traffic or any large-scale traffic flow the DFR Lab had analyzed.
The two hashtags were #GoBackModi and #TNwelcomesModi.
“The accounts were deployed on a massive scale on February 9-10 and boosted hashtags both in support of and in opposition to incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with small groups of accounts pushing out thousands of posts an hour,” said the DFR Lab report.
The accounts were domestic in origin and substance.
#TNwelcomesModi was mentioned over 777,000 times in two days. The hashtag referenced Modi’s visit to Tamil Nadu.
The DFR Lab analyzed the first 49,727 tweets in the flow to see whether the hashtag started to trend because of widespread interest or because it was pushed by a small group.
“Almost two-thirds of the posts that initiated #TNwelcomesModi and pushed it to trend came from just 50 accounts. This was an attempt at manipulation on an industrial scale, using a small number of hyper-tweeting bots to give the hashtag a massive boost,” the report explained.
One such bot account, @priyamanaval6 tweeted around once every 17 seconds. This account, and the others amplifying the #TNwelcomesModi hashtag have been suspended.
On February 10, the hashtag #GoBackModi also trended.
This hashtag trended even faster, racking up 49,538 tweets in just over three hours in the early morning of February 10. It peaked at a lower rate, however, generating 447,000 posts on February 9-10.
Just like #TNwelcomesModi, #GoBackModi was heavily pushed by a small number of high-volume accounts that posted hundreds of times an hour.
“Unlike #TNwelcomesModi, these accounts were still not suspended at the time of the report.
The most active was @PhillyTdp, which posted on #GoBackModi 2,179 times as the hashtag took off staggering one tweet every 5.3 seconds for over three hours.
The analysis used the Coefficient of Traffic Manipulation (CTM) method, which allows researchers to compare a given Twitter flow with known organic traffic, and traffic that was heavily gamed by small groups.