Network of South Asian Twitter accounts spreading Israel-Palestine war disinfo
Accounts exhibiting signs of coordination amplify divisive copypasta targeting both sides of the conflict
Banner: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from the city of Ashkelon, Israel October 9, 2023. (Source: Reuters/Amir Cohen/File Photo)
The DFRLab identified at least twenty-five accounts on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that appear to be coordinating to spread copy-and-pasted messages about the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Many of the accounts claim to be based in India, though their precise location cannot be determined. They previously focused on India-related topics before switching to posting false, misleading, and divisive content in support of both Israel and Palestine, sometimes jumping back and forth within a series of posts.
Israel declared war against Hamas after the militant group launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. At the time of writing, the war had resulted in the death of over 3,600 lives on both sides, and the displacement of approximately one million people – almost half of Gaza’s population. Social media content has circulated rapidly since the start of the conflict, and platforms have been flooded with disinformation and misinformation. X has faced criticism for concerns that the platform allows the spread of false information and graphically violent footage.
Fact-checking website BOOM recently reported on verified Indian accounts on X spreading false information and inflammatory content about the conflict, using similar tactics to the accounts found by the DFRLab.
Promoting unverified claims and disinformation
The X accounts identified as a part of this investigation all promoted unverified reports and misleading videos in tweets containing identical text, often posted within one minute of each other. The hashtags varied from tweet to tweet, however, in a likely attempt to reach a wider audience.
Using the social media listening tool Meltwater Explore, the DFRLab analyzed tweets including the phrase “40 Israeli children killed by Hamas. Heads were cut off.” The phrase was first posted by @BefittingFacts on October 10 at 5:58PM Israel time and circulated verbatim among accounts in the network for more than an hour. The text appeared alongside clips of a i24 news report from the site of a Hamas massacre in Kfar Azza discussing allegations of beheadings and forty babies that were “taken out on gurneys.” Multiple news outlets such as CNN initially confirmed some of the allegations but later retracted them; the specific details of what took place at the massacre are still being determined.
Many accounts, such as @cpgodara45 and @cricketnews0007, published identical posts seconds apart from each other. The two accounts also included the same series of hashtags in the same order.
Other accounts, such as @Anurag_4M and @ak_Meenaaaa, used verbatim language and hashtags, though one account used an additional emoji.
Furthermore, following reports of Israel allegedly using white phosphorus, many accounts in the network posted matching text and a misleading video of football celebrations in Algiers, Algeria, presented as footage from Gaza. For example, the accounts @hansterho247 and @zulfiqar9123, the latter an account with an automated account label, followed the same posting pattern demonstrated by the network.
Some of accounts, such as @cutepreetiji and @deva_shish0, also published an old video of smugglers between the Egypt-Libya border claiming it was recent footage showing Egyptian civilians crossing the Palestinian border to deliver aid.
Analysis of the network’s activities highlight some accounts posting what appear to be contradictory content critical and supportive of both Israel and Palestine, raising questions about the purposes behind such content. For example, @hansterho247 published two posts on October 12 with the same video of alleged Israeli weapons. The first post joked about how these weapons will be “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for #Hamas,” while the second, posted less than ninety minutes later, advocated for an end to the war.
Amplifying Indian support
Several accounts also posted duplicative content in quick succession regarding Indian support for Israel. Accounts such as @pranavpatel514 and @AnkitElvishB promoted copy-pasted content, or copypasta, about a solidarity march in Canada by Indians and members of the Canadian Jewish community. The two accounts used similar English-language hashtags, though @AnkitElvishB also included hashtags in Arabic.
The accounts @Sadekar2222 and @ShamKal75 published posts on October 7 falsely claiming that Indian Muslims are “blindly supporting” Hamas while Hindus “stand with Israel.” Both accounts also published the same post about the solidarity march in Canada.
Evidence of potential inauthenticity
While it is difficult to determine if the accounts belonged to real users or bots, some accounts exhibited additional suspicious indicators. For instance, on October 11, the account @hansterho247 had the display name “VIRAT KOHLI🇮🇳🏏 FAN PAGE (PROUDY)🏏🏏,” a reference to the former captain of the Indian national cricket team. The following day, the display name changed to “War 🔥 Update 🇮🇱 vs 🇵🇸.” At the time of writing, its name had changed to “Virat Kohli 🇮🇳🏏🏏 fan Page,” similar to the earlier name but not an exact match. Name changes are a frequent tactic used around extremely viral events as a means of growing an audience, which may have been the explanation here.
Moreover, a review of posts by the account @RebelTaha showed repeated posting of the same content and hashtags, all within a short span of time, featuring a different number at the end of each tweet, a possible sign of automated posting. The account used the same text other accounts had used about Israel’s possible use of white phosphorus but often added an unrelated video from a speech by former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly. In the clip, Khan stated, “Either you surrender or you fight for your freedom till death,” but it was in reference to ongoing Pakistan-India tensions rather than the current fighting between Israel and Hamas. @RebelTaha has used the same numbering method in other tweets about the conflict, as well in posts as regarding cricket and on other topics such as an MMA fight featuring influencer Logan Paul.
Tweets prior to the Hamas attack
Another indicator of potential inauthentic activity is the lack of any content about Israel or Palestine prior to October 7. Despite their current heavy focus on the war, a review of previous content showed an emphasis on India-related topics and cricket. Notably, some accounts appear to have posted copypasta prior to the Hamas attack. In one example, four accounts posted identical content within a narrow timeframe on October 6 about iPhones, suggesting possible coordination prior to October 7.
Other accounts seemed to post mostly original content. For example, @pranavpatel514, previously posted about Indian politics while accounts like @hansterho247 and @cricketnews0007 posted about Indian sports teams in the 2023 Asian Games.
It is difficult to determine the authenticity of these accounts and whether they are being operated by legitimate users or have been created to spread certain messages. Regardless, accounts used in coordinated campaigns during times of conflict, when the appetite for up-to-date information leads to uptake of false or unverified information before it can be debunked or corroborated, can exacerbate the spread of disinformation and increase the proliferation of angry rhetoric on both sides of a conflict.
Cite this case study:
“Network of South Asian Twitter accounts spreading Israel-Palestine war disinfo,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), October 18, 2023, https://dfrlab.org/2023/10/18/network-of-south-asian-twitter-accounts-spreading-israel-palestine-war-disinfo.