MANILA, Philippines – India's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used "free Netflix" and chats with women to lure people to call a number that would indicate support for the country's controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019, according to reports.
The alleged disinformation campaign appeared to have begun harmlessly with a call for support on Twitter and the said number. Below is the tweet, as posted by the party's president, Amit Shah:
To extend your support for the historic Citizenship Amendment Act-2019 brought in by PM @NarendraModi ’s government, to ensure justice to the religiously persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, kindly give a missed call on 88662-88662. #IndiaSupportsCAA pic.twitter.com/g7pTItqYjA — Amit Shah (@AmitShah) January 3, 2020 मैं सभी देशवासियों से अपील करता हूँ कि प्रधानमंत्री श्री नरेंद्र मोदी जी द्वारा पाकिस्तान, बांग्लादेश और अफगानिस्तान से आए अल्पसंख्यकों को न्याय व अधिकार देने वाले CAA पर अपना समर्थन देने के लिए 8866288662 पर missed call दें। #IndiaSupportsCAA pic.twitter.com/BYPuoU2oIN — Amit Shah (@AmitShah) January 3, 2020
The CAA, an amendment to India's Citizenship Act of 1955, would allow Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian minorities fleeing Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 2014.
It has sown controversy as outrage has grown over the CAA as it has been seen as anti-Muslim. The amendment excludes Muslims and a number of other persecuted communities, such as Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar or Buddhist refugees from Tibet.
Twitter users have noticed a growing number of what appear to be fake accounts telling people to call the number in exchange for free Netflix accounts.
The story of CAA support, in four pictures... pic.twitter.com/ueLNmqDRr8 — Meghnad (@Memeghnad) January 4, 2020
This brought Netflix India out to call out the claims of free Netflix accounts being passed around:
This is absolutely fake. If you want free Netflix please use someone else's account like the rest of us. https://t.co/PHhwdA3sEI — Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) January 4, 2020
Aside from this tactic, a Huffington Post report noted India Twitter users spotting fake accounts claiming to be lonely women wanting to chat, but who gave the same number provided by the BJP.
Desperate times call for desperate measures... #CAA pic.twitter.com/zzMGDyMmPP — SamSays (@samjawed65) January 4, 2020
In February 2019, Pratik Sinha of fact-checking website Altnews showed how that would work:
How do you get a Union Minister to tweet what you want? Well, you go and edit the trending document made by BJP IT cell, and then you control what they tweet. Thread. Here's the video of this morning when their trending document got automagically updated :-) 1/n pic.twitter.com/6DLwDPg2CV — Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) February 13, 2019
The method by which this campaign works shows the ease with which a coordinated disinformation attempt, moreso any social media campaign, can work without the need for expensive and time-consuming things like artificial intelligence software or digital media manipulation.
Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.