While the PDM government was electing the new prime minister, a hashtag #imported government na manzoor, which translates to ‘imported government unacceptable’ began trending on Twitter. According to the PTI, the hashtag has been tweeted 80 million times since it began trending on April 9, 2022.
Given Pakistan’s total Twitter population is reported to be around 3.4 million accounts (with many suspended and some users owning multiple accounts), the number claimed by the PTI is astonishing. It is unreasonable to assume that the 80 million tweets come from original Twitter accounts in Pakistan. The figure reported by PTI implies that every Pakistani account would have to tweet/retweet the hashtag 23 times. This is impossible, as many representing opposing viewpoints would not tweet it.
Federal Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed this trend was generated and sustained by 177 human-run accounts whereas the rest were Bots. Bots are software programmed accounts which can perform a range of functions such as tweet, message and retweet in accordance with inputs. She said a total of 924 accounts undertook this massive activity.
Talking to NayaDaur-TFT, Ramsha Jahangir, journalist who covers tech, misinformation and human rights, said, “The PML-N’s analysis refers to a different hashtag trend altogether. The PTI official teams trended a separate hashtag – there is a difference of letters between the two”.
It is imperative to point out that parameters of this analysis such as period and sample size of data in question are unknown. Yet, it has sparked a debate on whether the trend is organic.
“The trend is sustained by organic and inorganic activity but amplified by inorganic activity,” Saeed Rizvan, Communications researcher at the Ohio University told NayaDaur-TFT.
Rizvan conducted an in-depth analysis to find the percentage of original users tweeting the hashtag. He took a sample size of 100,000, out of which only 32 percent tweets were from original users. The number of tweets by original users went down to 13 percent in his next sample which contained 736,000 tweets. This means only 108,000 tweets were done by original users.
It is unreasonable to assume that the 80 million tweets come from original Twitter accounts in Pakistan. The figure reported by the PTI implies that every Pakistani account would have to tweet/retweet the hashtag 23 times. This is impossible, as many representing opposing viewpoints would not do so.
He said it is likely the percentage of original users tweeting the hashtag could go below 10 percent if sample size is increased — “There could be fake accounts but I have not analysed data to evaluate when those accounts were created.”
Rizvan told BBC Urdu that the key determinants of inorganic activity vis a vis Twitter trends were: the rate of retweets, the number of rare users and relationship between the most active users. A stronger link between key handles promoting hashtags, high average retweet rate per account and high tweets per handle are all indicators of inorganic activity.
Ramsha Jehangir added the PTI’s trend is “a mix of organic and inorganic activity. For instance, there are some accounts that posted over 1000 times (tweets + retweets + likes) under the hashtag to amplify the trend. A cluster of accounts flooding the hashtag means there was some inorganic effort.”
She also said that when big accounts post a hashtag, it gets more traffic and generates more volume. “The direct impact of so many big accounts posting the same hashtag does involve a considerable level of coordination which indicates inoganic activity”.
She further added, “Since the ‘imported-government-unacceptable’ trend has generated a volume of over 17m tweets, there is some organic activity as well, as people engaging on the topic are now using the trend.”
Ramsha Jahangir and Saeed Rizvan agreed that a large number of new accounts were created in March. Rizvan’s analysis showed that a total of 13,000 new accounts were created between April 1 and 11, 2022, averaging about 1,300 accounts a day. Whether those accounts are Bots or fake is unknown.
There has been much debate about whether this was one of the top worldwide trends. The algorithm Twitter uses to determine top trends, as Ramsha stated, is predicated on the basis of three indicators: “the average number of tweets (including retweets) per user; the percentage of retweets as a proportion of total traffic; and the proportion of traffic generated by those 50 accounts which used the given term most often.”
While the trend met Twitter’s three-pronged test for top trends on April 9, it stopped featuring as a global top trend later, despite millions of tweets. This could be because of questionable original or unoriginal activity surrounding the trend.
These three factors, she added, “indicate whether Twitter traffic was generated organically by a large number of users or pushed by a small one; whether it was driven by a high proportion of original posts or by large-scale retweeting; and whether it was driven by a small user group or a broader movement.”
Jahangir thinks it is also extremely important to consider the surrounding conversation in the region or network at the time of planning a campaign — “Sometimes hashtag with lesser posts end up on the top in the trending panel. This shows that even if the total number of tweets might be low, the hashtag was able to develop a conversation sooner than the other topics on the trends panel.”
She pointed out that ‘imported-government-unacceptable’ hashtag was among worldwide top trends on April 9.
While the trend met Twitter’s three-pronged test for top trends on April 9, it stopped featuring as a global top trend later, despite millions of tweets. This could be because of questionable original or unoriginal activity surrounding the trend. The inorganic element of the activity may have been an obstacle in the trend appearing on worldwide top trends despite millions of tweets on the daily basis.
Saeed Rizvan analysed this in a tweet, stating, “One thing is obvious that on top of genuine contributors to the hashtag, meaningful inorganic activity is going on. With tweets in millions (so far >8 million as claimed), the hashtag would have been on top of global trends. Why is this hashtag not coming to the global panel? I assume too many tweets from particular geographic locations or devices. If inorganic activity is stopped & let the trend take its organic path, it will start appearing on global trends. Consistency & originality is the key. Earlier from Pakistan, Sindh rejects the bogus domicile trend and got into the global trends”.