September 19, 2018

UPDATE: 22,000+ tweets sent from Bangladesh to top 10 political hashtags in Pakistan ahead of General Election 2018 in little over than 2 weeks

ISLAMABAD: “Trends Monitor”, an initiative to monitor digital political campaigns in Pakistan ahead of General Elections, had found that almost all of the top political hashtags have a small but persistent contribution from Bangladesh.

Trends Monitor is a research initiative of Media Matters for Democracy that aims to monitor and assess top political hashtags on Twitter for possible manipulation through human-bots, a term coined by MMFD researchers for fake dummy accounts which demonstrate a bot-like behavior but are operated by humans. Human-bots are often found propagating political and non-political agendas and are also in some cases involved in directing hateful and inciteful speech towards journalists and human rights defenders.

Trends Monitor team from 23rd June to 8th July has monitored top 10 trending political hashtags on Twitter and has found a small, but persistent contribution from Bangladesh. In total, in the said period, 22,609 tweets, retweets, and replies from Bangladesh were contributed to these 10 Pakistani hashtags alone.

Contributions from other countries are present as well, but none as persistent as Bangladesh. Below is a breakdown of the political hashtags analysed in said period.

Hashtags Total Volume of Tweets Percentage Contribution of tweets from Bangladesh Contribution of tweets from Bangladesh Hashtag analysis dates
#Election2018 133100 2% 2662 Jun 22-Jul 03
#اب_صرف_عمران_خان – 69000 3% 2070 Jun 29-July 03
#BBKaWaadaNibhanahai 63500 2% 1270 Jun 28-July 03
#PakistanNeedsKaptaan 35100 1% 351 23 Jun-3 July
#Pirates_Of_Pakistan 31100 0 0 Jun 26-Jul 03
#AwamPukareyJeayBilawal 57100 1% 571 July 04-10
#BBteraKaaflaRukaNahin 91600 2% 1832 July02-08
#Rain 29200 1% 292 July 03-10
#AbSirfImranKhan 179000 2% 3580 July 03-11
#AvenfieldReference 302900 3% 9087 July 05-13
#PMLNCampaign2018 44700 2% 894 July 04-11
TOTAL 1036300 22609

A total of 1 million + (1,036,300) tweets were recorded in the aforementioned political hashtags during the said period alone. Numbers also include original tweets, retweets, and replies.

Trends Monitor, however, does not include a qualitative analysis of the nature of the conversations contributed towards these political hashtags.

Asad Baig, the founder of MMFD and the lead of Trends Monitor thinks this is an interesting phenomenon. “We know there are Pakistanis residing in UAE, UK, USA and other European countries but we don’t see a persistent contribution even from these countries. It is, then, interesting to see that a very persistent volume of tweets is being contributed from Bangladesh”.

Talking about whether or not this could point towards potential manipulation he said, “Firstly the contribution is too small for any potential manipulation, and neither does it signify anything sinister. On our part, this is just an interesting observation. I would understand if tweets were being contributed by India, for instance, since they are our neighbors and naturally interested in the outcome of General Elections, but that is not the case”.

He further said that the total contribution can only be deducted once Trends Monitor’s monitoring period is concluded. “We are still constantly monitoring political hashtags on Twitter, and so this would at best be a preliminary finding. We will, however, be in a better position to present the data once the monitoring concludes on 23rd August, and we have the complete dataset”.

It’s important to note here that Trends Monitor research team has to date monitored nearly 140 political hashtags and some 10 million tweets.

Written by

Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.

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