For long, the Bharatiya Janata Party held the upper hand on Twitter — which — along with comment boards on news websites — forms the ‘wild west’ of political online campaigning in India with large-scale manipulation, ‘fake’ accounts, bullying and targeted attacks.
Not to be outdone, the Aam Aadmi Party — or some of its supporters — have hit back by designing bots (automated software) that paste several pro-AAP messages underneath every message that the Prime Minister of India sends out.
As a result, if anyone clicks on any message sent out by Narendra Modi on his official Twitter account, he or she cannot avoid seeing a string of pro-Kejriwal or pro-AAP messages below official message (see picture).
This has been achieved by creating special software that constantly monitors PMO India’s official account for any new tweets, and if anything new comes up, the software immediately sends out ten pro-AAP and pro-Kejriwal messages in reply to PMO’s tweet.
Since these tweets are sent out with microseconds of the official message, there is virtually no chance for any human being to reply to Modi’s message before the 10 AAP tweets are posted. And since Twitter lists the replies in the order in which they arrived, the software-generated pro-AAP tweets are always shown immediately below PMO’s post.
The ‘ambush attack’ started on Sunday.
As of now, it looks like the government and BJP’s IT experts are either unaware of, or at a loss to counter the bot attack.
Though Twitter has a ‘block’ function, it only blocks yourself (in this case PMO India) from seeing messages from the blocked account. However, since the intended audience of the pro-AAP tweets is not Modi himself, blocking has limited benefits.
Besides, the tweet attack is coming from several different accounts. Interestingly, the bots are not targeting Narendra Modi’s personal account.
For now, there seems to be no tit-for-tat response by the BJP or its supporters. AAP founder Kejriwal’s Twitter messages are not getting ‘ambushed’ in the same way.
Political parties in India use (and misuse) social media for propaganda purposes, and are reported to have sophisticated operations that employs many people to ‘manage’ opinion on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and comments sections of popular news websites.
Abuse is less prevalent on Facebook as it has stricter policies on verification of mobile numbers. Twitter, which is used by many genuine activists who depend on anonymity to keep themselves safe, does not have strict verification requirements.
However, after the US Presidential election, Twitter has been weeding out what it believes are accounts created by organizations for propaganda purposes and bullying. The company is expected to track abuse by running analytical tools to figure out which accounts are getting access from the same IP, the timing of the access, the action patterns of these accounts and so on.