Automated bot accounts made a massive attempt to boost Twitter traffic in India in February, during the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, according to a study by US-based analysts. The think-tank Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) found that these bots, which were domestic, were deployed on a massive scale on February 9-10 and boosted hashtags both in support of and in opposition to Prime Minster Narendra Modi (it said pro-Modi traffic was far more heavily manipulated than anti-Modi traffic). However, it added that the impact was rather muted.
The hashtag #TNwelcomesModi was mentioned over 777,000 times on February 9 and 10. The analysis used a measure called the Coefficient of Traffic Manipulation (CTM) — in earlier studies, non-manipulated traffic typically scored a CTM of 12 or lower, while manipulated traffic boosted by bots and coordinated human users scored up to 60.
For #TNwelcomesModi, DFRLab analysed the first 49,727 tweets in a scan that covered 7 hours 48 minutes. These scored a CTM of 123.98, the highest DFRLab has ever recorded. An “eyeball test” of the accounts that posted the hashtag most often indicated that these accounts were bots, DFRLab said. They have since been suspended. The account @SasiMaha6 (now suspended) posted #TNwelcomesModi tweets 1,803 times during the scan while @priyamanaval6 (suspended) posted the hashtag 1,677 times, or roughly one tweet every 17 seconds for over seven hours. DFRLab concluded that these sustained rates are far too high for human posting.
On February 10, the hashtag #GoBackModi trended, pushing messages that supported the Congress. This hashtag racked up 49,538 tweets in just over three hours in the early morning. It peaked at a lower rate, generating 447,000 posts on February 9-10. When DFRLab scanned the 49,538 posts in three hours, the CTM score was 46.81. While this was far above the usual range for organic traffic, it paled in comparison to the pro-Modi effort, DFRLab noted.
#GoBackModi too was heavily pushed by a small number of high-volume accounts that posted hundreds of times an hour. DFRLab said in a statement that these accounts were still not suspended at the time of drafting the statement. However, by the time of filing this report, The Indian Express found that the top accounts mentioned — @PhillyTdp and @nritdpusa — had both been suspended. @PhillyTdp posted on #GoBackModi 2,179 times as the hashtag took off — one tweet every 5.3 seconds for over three hours — while @nritdpusa posted 1,899 times, or roughly one tweet every 6 seconds.
The nearly 50,000 tweets in the #TNwelcomesModi scan were posted by just 891 accounts, while the nearly 50,000 tweets in the #GoBackModi scan were posted by 7,394 accounts, DFRLab said.
Text and graphs adapted from DFRLab