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Naomi Canton | TNN | London | March 4, 2023:: American journalist Matt Taibbi, who is releasing the “Twitter Files” in collaboration with Twitter owner Elon Musk has revealed that in 2021 at least 40,000 Twitter accounts were sent to Twitter by a US think tank’s “disinformation lab” which accused these accounts of “engaging in inauthentic behaviour in support of Hindu nationalism”.
Twitter checked the accounts of the 40,000 names and found them to be “real people”, mostly Americans who had not stepped foot in India and were not Hindu.
The revelation has sparked anger amongst India’s twitterati, especially as the entity to send the accounts was the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), which aims to expose fake news and falsehoods and document human rights abuses. The Atlantic Council is funded by, among others, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the United States Department of Defence. According to Taibbi, the DFRLab was a “secret contractor” working for the Global Engagement Center, set up by the US government in 2011 to expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies or security of the US and its allies.
The Twitter Files are thousands of internal documents that reveal decisions and meetings that took place at Twitter pre-Musk, that Musk’s team has since obtained. Taibbi started started releasing the Twitter files on December 2. The first instalment showed how political parties in the US had asked Twitter to remove accounts and how Twitter allegedly suppressed the New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
For the 17th instalment, released on March 2, Taibbi wrote: “On June 8, 2021, an analyst at the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab wrote to Twitter: ‘Hi guys. Attached you will find a spreadsheet of around 40k Twitter accounts that our researchers suspect are engaging in inauthentic behaviour in support of the BJP and Hindu nationalism more broadly.”
The email was sent to Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety, and Nick Pickles, head of global government affairs, at Twitter.
“DFRLab said it suspected 40,000 accounts of being ‘paid employees or possibly volunteers of India’s BJP,'” Taibbi tweeted. “But the list was full of ordinary Americans, many with no connection to India and no clue about Indian politics.”
“This DFRLab list of ‘Hindu nationalists’ is weirdly packed with real septuagenarian Trump supporters,” Taibbi explained on Substack.
He tweeted responses from some of those accounts.
“I have no connection to any Hindu folks… Just a Reagan Republican here in CT,” replied “Bobby Hailstone.”
“A Hindu nationalist? I’ve never even been out of this country. Let alone the state of NJ,” said “Lady_DI816.”
A woman named Marysel Urbanik who immigrated from Castro’s Cuba in her youth, struggled to understand why a Washington think tank had sent Twitter a letter identifying her as either “inauthentic” or a Hindu nationalist. “They say I’m what?” “But I’m Cuban, not Indian,” she pleaded, confused. “Hindu? I wouldn’t even know what words to say.”
Pandit Satish Sharma has tweeted the list of donors to Atlantic Council asking: “Why was the FCDO funding Twitter’s censorship of Hindu voices?”
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