While Pakistanis were busy wrapping their head around a bevy of quick-fire political developments surrounding the opposition’s protests in Karachi and its aftermath, Indian media channels decided to muddy the waters and stroke instability by spreading false claims that a “civil war” had erupted in the metropolis.
Old videos, unrelated images, and outlandish claims of causalities were spread not only by individual twitter handles, but also by established news organizations – such as including India Today, Zee News, CNN18 and India.com – and “blue tick” Indian politicians and officials – such as Tarek Fateh and Minhaz Merchant.
Confusion and anger at this blatant lie quickly gave way to mockery, as Pakistani Twitter had a field day making jokes at the expense of the Indian media. Even till Thursday evening #CivilWarInKarachi was trending in Pakistan.
While the lie seems to have caused little harm, its intentions were dangerous; causing panic, confusion and infighting among Pakistan’s population. Indian media must be held accountable.
Pakistani politicians – from across the political divide – called on Twitter to take notice of the coordinated misinformation campaign.
The Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, called on Twitter to act.
As did senior Pakistan People’s Party leader and former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman.
Similar calls were made by international commentators, journalists and human rights groups.
This campaign is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger strategy. According to data gathered by the Islamabad Institute of Policy Research (IPRI), Indian digital media has been engaging in systematic propaganda against Pakistan, revolving around four key themes: campaigns against Pakistani armed forces, stoking civil unrest within Pakistan, propaganda on Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) and sabotaging the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In an interview in 2018 Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said that “Twitter’s job is to prevent the spread of misinformation. “If it is intending to mislead, we need to understand and pick out the misinformation and then our job is to make sure it doesn’t spread. And our job is to make sure that it doesn’t gain in impressions beyond its earned reach…and certainly not to anyone that hasn’t explicitly asked for it.”
More recently following misleading Tweets by US President Donald Trump, Twitter actively decided to fact check his claims by adding a warning label under his tweets indicating that the information might be incorrect. After that controversy, Twitter released a “civic integrity policy” for the elections which, among other regulations, says:
“Twitter’s list of possible enforcement actions includes forcing users to delete the tweets, locking their account if the misinformation is present in a bio or permanent suspension “for severe or repeated violations of this policy.”
There is an extensive precedent for the banning of accounts spreading misinformation. Earlier this year, Twitter permanently suspended 1,589 state-linked accounts that violated its platform manipulation policies. It says they were connected to state misinformation operations carried out by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Thailand.
With the evidence of a clear falsehood, a coordinated campaign, and a malicious motive present, will Twitter – which has made countering political misinformation the centerpiece of its public policy – act to take these accounts down?