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Operation K: How China is using AI & Fake Sikh Accounts to manipulate Indian social media and spread Khalistani Propaganda

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Sukhmeet Singh, who portrayed herself as a Punjabi girl with a UK education, living in Delhi, and deeply passionate about Sikh heritage, language, and culture, was an outspoken critic of the Indian government. Her social media posts often called for the US to “support Khalistan to counter Indian hegemony”.

However, there was a significant twist- Sukhmeet Singh did not exist. This account was part of a network of fake profiles linked to China.

What has long been suspected by the Indian intelligence community is now backed by concrete evidence. Purported Sikh accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and X (formerly Twitter), which criticized the Indian government across at least seven countries, including India, were traced back to China.

From criticising the Indian government to supporting the Khalistan independence movement, China-based ‘bad actors’ that were busy manipulating the social media by using synthetic content, including the misuse of artificial intelligence (AI), have now been exposed.

The network originated in China and targeted the global Sikh community, including in Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, the UK and Nigeria.

According to Meta (formerly Facebook), these social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and X (formerly Twitter) posted primarily in English and Hindi about news and current events, including images likely manipulated by photo-editing tools or generated by AI.

These accounts frequently posted about floods in the Punjab region, the Sikh community worldwide, “the Khalistan independence movement, the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan independence activist in Canada and criticism of the Indian government”.

Meta swung into action and removed 37 Facebook accounts, 13 Pages, five Groups, and nine accounts on Instagram for violating its policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB).

This activity included several clusters of fake accounts, including one with links to an “unattributed CIB network from China targeting India and the Tibet region that we disrupted in early 2023”.

Some of these clusters amplified one another with most of their engagement coming from their own fake accounts.

Meta said that this operation used compromised and fake accounts to pose as Sikhs, post content and manage Pages and Groups.

They created a fictitious activist movement called “Operation K” which called for pro-Sikh protests, including in New Zealand and Australia.

The company said it removed this activity before it was able to build an audience among authentic communities on its platforms.

Not just Meta, a Microsoft Threat Analysis team warned last month that China will create and amplify AI-generated content to benefit its interests amid major global elections, particularly in India and the US.

According to Microsoft, China is using fake social media accounts to poll voters on what divides them most to sow division and possibly influence the outcome of the elections.

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