As it is, the Twitter handle which had posted a single tweet until June 27 that led to the arrest of journalist Mohammed Zubair has been showing bizarre activity. With only a single tweet and follower, the handle @balajikijaiin had suddenly disappeared after Zubairâ€™s arrest and then reemerged a day later, with a new tweet against Pratik Sinha, who co-founded fact-checking website Alt News with Zubair. Now, a detailed investigation by The Wire, has revealed that @balajikijaiin, along with hundreds of other Twitter accounts have been on a years-long campaign against Alt News since 2018. All of these accounts are connected to Vikash Ahir, New Delhi president of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, originally founded by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Vikash Ahir is also the co-convener of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in Gujarat, with close association to Yogi Adiyanath.
Further investigation also found that a larger network of accounts involved in the campaign against Zubair and Alt News were also part of the Tek Fog network that The Wire had exposed earlier this year. Tek Fog is reportedly an app used by the BJP IT Cell to run organised campaigns on Twitter, generating tweets, trends and hashtags to attack those who are critical of the BJP. While investigating suspicious Twitter handles connected to Zubair and AltNews, The Wire has found 757 Twitter accounts linked to Vikash Ahir. They uncovered eight replica accounts of @balajikijaiin, with similar names, profiles, and tweets.
In the Delhi Policeâ€™s case against Zubair, filed on the basis of a tweet by @balajikijaiin raising objection to a 2018 tweet by Zubair, they claimed that the account was not anonymous but did not reveal the details in court. An Indian Express report said that the police had sent a notice to Twitter the same day (June 29) to get the details of the account.
Among the 757 Twitter accounts linked to Vikash Ahir, more than 280 exhibited bot-like behaviour, The Wire reports. And a larger network â€“ 18,364 accounts â€“ were found involved in trending hashtags against Zubair. At least 60% of these accounts were also in the Tek Fog list released earlier this year, which had been involved in targeting women journalists, communalising public conversations on COVID-19 and so on.
However, some questions have been raised about the claims made by The Wire regarding Tek Fog, including whether there is solid evidence to back the claims, or whether Tek Fog is even an app in the first place.
Zubairâ€™s four year old tweet that has brought on the arrest concerned a photo he posted, a still from the 1983 film Kissi Se Na Kehna, in which a hotel which had the name Honeymoon changed it to Hanuman. A court in Delhi is hearing his bail plea, which the police are opposing as they seek more time to investigate allegations of foreign funds being deposited in Zubairâ€™s account. He has maintained that the funds have been deposited to Alt News, and was never meant for personal use.
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