sikh: UK report uncovers network of fake social media accounts targeting Sikhs

LONDON: A UK report has identified a network of fake social media accounts using common Sikh surnames that push the narrative that advocates of Sikh independence are terrorists, that Pakistan funds and supports the Khalistan movement, that “real Sikhs” support the Indian government, that Khalistanis hijacked the farmer protests, and that the UK, US and Canada are harbouring Sikh terrorist groups, thus threatening India.
The report’s authors cannot identify who is behind the fake network without access to the data held by social media companies. There is no evidence the Indian government has any involvement.
The report by London-based social enterprise Centre for Information Resilience, titled “Analysis of the #RealSikh Influence Operation”, identifies a coordinated influencer operation of 80 “sock puppet” accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, with more than 164,000 combined followers, that target and interact with a wider network of authentic accounts pushing these narratives.
The report warns that this activity risks reducing cohesion within the Sikh community, weakening trust between India’s different religious communities, and stoking cultural tensions in India and overseas, which could ultimately undermine the stability of India.
“The network’s advocacy that supporters of Sikh independence are extremist or terrorist, and that Indian nationalists must take action against them, may contribute to an environment in which some actors consider intimidation of, or violence towards, the Sikh community as legitimate,” the report warns.
CIR’s co-founder and executive director, Adam Rutland, said the report “clearly shows concerning indications of information warfare against minorities in India”.
The use of Sikh names, along with stolen celebrity profile pictures, and claims to be both “real Sikhs and proud Indians” in their biography fields, indicate that the fake accounts want to be seen as Sikhs in order for their narratives on Sikh agendas to be influential, the report said.
Many of the accounts post content highly supportive of the Indian government, specifically the Indian Defence Force, and use the same spam hashtags, such as “#RealSikhsAgainstKhalistan”.
“The fake accounts do not show signs of automation, but rather appear to be human-operated. The core network is supported by a large network of authentic accounts which primarily identify as Hindu nationalists,” the report said.
Narratives repeatedly pushed by the operation include calling out whether someone is a “real Sikh” or a “fake Sikh” and arguing that Sikh independence is not compatible with the values of a “real” Sikh.
The tweets by the fake accounts have often been liked or replied to by verified accounts and some have been embedded in genuine news articles. One tweet by a now suspended Twitter account showing a picture of two British Sikh MPs — Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and Preet Gill — which said: “Dear Khalistanis, good that finally you found your proper Khalistan in UK and Canada”, has had more than 16,000 likes and over 2,000 retweets.
“I have faced an uphill struggle to challenge the misinformation being shared about me, and it has taken a toll on my mental health,” said Gill. “This report confirms what we in the Sikh community have experienced for some time, that there is a coordinated campaign on social media to discredit the Sikh community.”
Dhesi described the network as a “two-rupees-a-tweet Twitter troll factory in overdrive” and praised the report as “an excellent expose”.
Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation (UK), claimed: “In our view those behind the network that has been exposed will be directly or indirectly linked to the Indian government. The US administration, UK government, Canadian authorities and others must take action.” Jasveer Singh, from the Sikh Press Association, said it is a “much welcomed resource that will be cited by Sikhs across the world for years to come”.

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