Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Indian twitter handles - impacting US elections !!!

Do you think US elections stimulate lot of interest in all parts of India ! ~ and more, do you ever imagine that Indian response can have some impact on the elections ? – not that of Indians settled in USA, but those from rural India !!!



At 3.30am in Vienna, there are still helicopters circling overhead, readers are stating. Because it was the last night before Vienna’s lockdown came into effect, many people were taking the opportunity to go out for one last time. While some who were in the city have finally made it home, others are spending the night in the places they were at when the attacks began. There are stories of  lawyers sleeping at their offices, from attendees at a barre class that ended shortly after 8pm who are sleeping in the studio – this morning saw hashtag : #austriaAttack – trending twitter.   Do you tweet ? – what is your twitter handle ? – mine is : @KairaviniSampat

Twitter is a modern public square where many voices discuss, debate and share their views. Media personalities, politicians and the public turn to social networks for real-time information and reactions to the day’s events.  .. .. .. the % of population using Twitter, following Twitter, tweeting could be much smaller yet it is very influential and most observed !

          Almost 4.66 billion people were active internet users as of Oct 2020, encompassing 60 percent of the global population. China, India and the United States rank ahead all other countries in terms of internet users. Twitter is particularly popular in the United States, with  audience reach of 68.7 million users. Japan and the India were ranked second and third with 51.9 and 18.9 million users respectively. 80% of Twitter users are affluent millennials.  The top three countries by user count outside the U.S. are Japan (49.1 million users), India (17 million), and Brazil (15.7 million).

The World has remained shut-down since mid Mar 2020 and there have been voices of economic difficulties.  Pandemic ! economic slowdown – what ? - Twitter has announced financial results for its third quarter 2020. “We have grown our daily audience by 42 million in the last year as people all around the world come to Twitter to find out about the topics and events they care about most. I’m pleased mDAU grew 29% year over year to 187 million, driven by global conversation around current events and product improvements,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO.  “Advertisers significantly increased their investment on Twitter in Q3, engaging our larger audience around the return of events as well as increased and previously delayed product launches, driving revenue to $936 million, up 14% year over year,” said Ned Segal, Twitter’s CFO. “We also made progress on our brand and direct response products, with updated ad formats, improved measurement, and better prediction.

With less than 36 hours to go for the US presidential elections, President Donald Trump held rallies in battleground states of Michigan, Iowa and North Caroline and planned stops in Georgia and Florida. Biden made an appearance in the closely contested state of Pennsylvania. Biden is set to close his campaign in Pittsburgh where he made his maiden campaign appearance in April 2019. After attacking the main-in ballot system throughout his campaign, President Donald Trump says that he is gearing up for legal challenges in the counting of mail and absentee votes in Pennsylvania. “I think it is a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election. I think it is a terrible thing when people or states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over because it can only lead to one thing,” Trump said. “We are going in the night of — as soon as the election is over — we are going in with our lawyers,” he added. 

Within two weeks of Biden selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate on August 12, his Twitter following jumped by 738,595 new followers—a 9.1 percent leap. The number hit 11 million by the third week of October. .. .. … A close examination has revealed unusual patterns. A large number of Twitter accounts that followed Biden’s appear to have been created exclusively for that purpose. And a large number of the users are located in small towns in rural India—in places where English-speakers are rare, and from handles run by people who don’t speak English as their first language, nor appear to be genuinely invested in American politics. 

Joe Biden's Twitter account got a sizable boost beginning in August from tens of thousands of fake followers purchased on the open market from troll farms in rural India, an investigation has found. Within two weeks of Biden selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate on August 12, his Twitter following jumped by 738,595 new followers—a 9.1 percent leap. The number hit 11 million by the third week of October. A close examination has revealed unusual patterns. A large number of Twitter accounts that followed Biden's appear to have been created exclusively for that purpose. And a large number of the users are located in small towns in rural India—in places where English-speakers are rare, and from handles run by people who don't speak English as their first language, nor appear to be genuinely invested in American politics.

A Zenger News investigation reveals that Biden's increasing social media footprint in India came from the country's infamous troll farms boosting his candidacy.  An interesting article in NewsWeek states -  Kamala Harris's ethic heritage is in part rooted in India, but her share of Indian and apparently Indian followers is far lower, about 0.12 percent.  Some of the operators who worked on the campaign spoke at length about how propaganda agencies in New Delhi and Mumbai activated a widely distributed troll network to amplify Biden's campaign impact on Twitter.

In discussions over the Telegram app, Harshit Patel and Yajpal Yadav discussed the part they played.  Patel runs a small cybercafé near the railway station at Umbergaon, a small town four hours north of Mumbai near the Maharashtra-Gujarat interstate border. From 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, he scans IDs of customers and allots them a PC for twenty rupees an hour. On the side, he and his Photoshop-savvy wife Sejal make photocopies, print ID cards, do small design jobs and offer lamination services.

"This was started as an internet café by my father in the late 1990s," Patel said, speaking in Gujarati-accented Hindi. "Back then, men came in mostly for chatting in IRC [Internet Relay Chat] rooms and surfing porn. It was brisk business. But then internet became so cheap and everyone got smartphones and business petered out. We had to rely on passengers asking to print railway tickets, fill up online forms, and get documents photocopied. But that didn't even cover the costs of maintaining the PCs and paying the electricity bill. Things changed in 2012–13 when [Narendra] Modi started his campaign for prime minister. And this became my main business." What Patel means by "this" is the business of running a troll farm after his shutters go down at 8:00 p.m.—which is 10:30 a.m. in New York and 7:30 a.m. in California.

Four of his employees, young men who live in the neighborhood, take their stations at long desks that line two walls of the tiny shop, and open up task sheets assigned to them. A Google Doc tells each one of them who to follow, who to retweet, what to retweet and what comments to leave on specific posts. Using aliases—each worker controls several hundred—they schedule tweets, check engagement stats and, at the close of their shifts, fill up a spreadsheet with their analytics from the previous day.  India's troll farm business is now one of the most decentralized and robust in the world. They offer nearly anything to paying customers, according to Patel: fake news, Photoshopped images, support and "hate" campaigns, and even incitements of mob violence.  

Yajpal Yadav, based in the eastern India town of Patna, has a similar story. The high-school dropout invested in 5 PCs and a broadband connection in 2016. His IT services agency, as he calls his one-room setup, now employs six people in addition to him and his brother Rajpal. "Each one of us controls two to three hundred profiles across different platforms," Yajpal said in Hindi, his only language. "We get daily targets from agencies in Delhi and Mumbai, and we simply engage with the target as we're told." "Political parties are our main clients, but even brands and celebrities who need promotion come our way," Yajpal said. "This is a business like any other.

"We don't pick and choose. Joe Biden the person is irrelevant to us. We got a target in August to follow him and engage with his tweets, and we did. The agencies in Delhi who we work with don't tell us any details, and we don't ask," he said. Yajpal described a pyramid-shaped campaign structure akin to multi-level marketing, but without the mid-level payoffs. "There are so many levels [of subcontractors] in this, nobody can really trace anything back. We don't even get paid through banks. We settle in cash once a month" via Hawala, a popular international money transfer system that uses bookkeepers outside official banking networks. He declined to share specific financial details: "I won't tell you how much we make, but what I will tell you is this setup is feeding all our families. And I don't have to ever worry about a roof on my head or about paying my children's' school fees."

Zenger News data-dumped a large sample of Joe Biden's new Twitter followers from August 19 to August 28: seven days of 15,000 data points per day, the maximum allowed by Twitter's rate-limits.  "Typically, fake accounts are identified by looking at combinations of attributes of the handles in question," said Saikiran Kannan, a Singapore-based Open Source Intelligence analyst.  He flags some suspicious and unusual activities by spotting other factors, too, like Twitter handles that include random-seeming numbers or that leave the default "egg" as their profile pictures. Excessive duplicate tweets raise red flags, as do those in incoherent English and tweets that contradict each other. Most "sock puppets," as they're called, typically retweet only a few specific accounts in intermittent bursts of high volume. Based on the sample Zenger News examined, it appears that more than 100,000 such accounts joined Biden's legitimate followers in August.

Of the 105,000 followers in the sample, 31,981—more than 30 percent—were created on August 12 or later. Of the 62,478 accounts created before 2020, 16.5 percent have tweeted fewer than 10 times. Half of those have not tweeted this year at all.  Taking this into account, Zenger analyzed the remaining 60,000 accounts. A high percentage have popular Indian last names like Kumar and Singh and display evidence that Hindi is their preferred language. Saikiran said it was possible but highly unlikely that Americans were using virtual private networks (VPNs) to fool Twitter into thinking they were tweeting from India.

"Twitter is very strict about VPNs," he said. "If you try to sign up or run an account using a VPN, Twitter flags your account and asks for two-factor authentication." VPN service providers almost universally offer locations in large cities, not the small towns where the troll farm industry has thrived. And Twitter's two-factor authentication scheme requires a phone with a physical SIM card—not a virtual number like those available from Google or Microsoft's Skype platform. Indian regulations permit only nine registered SIM cards per person. But even that has loopholes, said Patel, the Internet café owner, and if social media platforms were to require identity verification, he's ready. "Think a bit," he said about identity verification by photo ID. "I just told you that I scan IDs of everyone who uses my cybercafé, didn't I?"

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
03.11.2020 

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