An emerging disinformation analysis forum called EU Disinfo Lab recently published a damning report which uncovers a network of 265 fake online media fronts used for coordinated influence operations to serve Indian interests.
Detection of Indian-sponsored and anti-Pakistan content networks took place since early October, when investigations revealed that a so-called website for the “European Parliament” (EPToday) was in fact managed by Indian stakeholders linked to the Srivastava Group. In case it wasn’t clear already, this discreet group was directly associated with the sponsoring of far-right EU MEPs to visit Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K) as part of Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s publicity stunt.
Geo-plotting of the network reveals purported presence of two forums (now defunct) in Pakistan, namely “Socialist Weekly” and “Khalsa Akhbar Lahore“. The exclusive open source investigation below by Pakistan Insider focuses on these two specific forums to examine the attributes and influence methodology of Srivastava Group.
Socialist Weekly was an Urdu-language publication from Karachi launched in 1947 which later served as an official mouthpiece for the Pakistan Socialist Party. It was a continuation of Sindhi Socialist Weekly. Mobarak Sagher was the Founder/Editor-in-Chief who was a member of PSW’s National Executive Board and the only Pakistani delegate at the Asian Socialist Conference held in erstwhile Burma (1953).
Chronology of Online ‘Revival’
Dissection of Twitter Handle
Twitter analytics reveal that the handle published almost 12 tweets per day linked to 3,000+ web links for detailed content (all to its associated website). So far, only 8 tweets have been RT’ed (retweeted) and 16 ‘favourited‘. These tweets are mostly auto-published through syndication with the parent website (hosted on WordPress). Hashtags used by the handle include “#stopbalochgenocide” (frequency: twice), “#pakistanstopgenocide” (frequency: twice) and “#stoppashtungenocide” (frequency: once).
Dissection of Website
The main IP address of socialistweekly.com is 188.8.131.52, hosted in Provo, US. Its servers belong to an entity known as “threemediagroup.com” which is also hosted on the same servers. Deep investigations have revealed that:
- One of the email IDs mentioned against threemediagroup.com is charles.forceps.gmail.com.
- This email ID is linked to dozens of websites, including one with a similar-named server “fourmediagroup.com“. The same name “charles forceps” is mentioned here against the propaganda website lepaysdefrance.com. This website is also part of the network uncovered by EU Disinfo Lab.
- Reverse-lookup of FourMediaGroup.com led to a company based in Ghaziabad, India owned by one “Vinayak Sharma“, a digital media specialist [click here for a copy of his LinkedIn profile].
The website’s content is syndicated from different news feeds for re-publication to display “authenticity”, whereas two posts categorised under “Opinion” merit attention: one of them is a letter on Aasia Bibi’s detention addressed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on behalf of less-known EU Parliamentarians dated 10 November 2018. Upon further inspection, it was found that contents of this post were originally published a day prior by EUToday, the same Indian propaganda website uncovered by EU Disinfo Lab.
The ‘About‘ section of the website, in a brief one-liner, has picked up the opening entry of Socialist Weekly’s history from Wikipedia and tried to (falsely) associate itself with it.
The ‘Contact Us‘ section lists the following address:
1/F Bahria Complex III, MT Khan Road, Naval Officers Colony, Karachi, Pakistan
This precise address is listed as “Karachi, Financial Centre“. Apparently, virtual offices on this address can be leased ranging from Rs 8,800 to Rs 15,000 per month.
It’s unclear whether the people behind Socialist Weekly actually registered a virtual address in Pakistan or simply misued their brand address through illegal means. The owners of this premium property in Karachi can appeal against Srivastava Group on international forums against exploitation of their address.
A Facebook page called “Centre for Assistance To Minorities (CATM)” shared a post by Socialist Weekly earlier in July. It is operated by one “Aaron Bhatti” who happens to be one of the followers on Socialist Weekly‘s Twitter handles (video already shared above). Apparently, this account is a sock-puppet (fake persona) based on examination of social media account characteristics.
KHALSA AKHBAR LAHORE
Khalsa Akhbar was a weekly newspaper in Lahore which served as the official mouthpiece for Lahore Khalsa Diwan. It was in circulation from 1886 till 1905, shut down after the dissolution of Singh Sabha Lahore.
The ‘re-emergence’ (fake) of this newspaper online was through domain registration of khalsakhbarlahore.com on 17 June 2019 [Archived copy]. At the time of compiling this report, the site does not have any associated social media accounts.
It’s noteworthy that this fake website has a similar design theme, layout and content feed as Socialist Weekly.
The ‘About‘ section of the website contains copy of the Wikipedia entry to Khalsa Akhbar (same strategy applied for Socialist Weekly front) and mentions the following contact details:-
Contact Address: Eden Value Homes, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan
Phone: +92 321 4224534
A reverse-lookup of this address and mobile number led to Regus Enterprise Business Centre in Lahore. Interestingly, the same address and mobile number are mentioned for an additional website “Times of Azad Kashmir” which is purportedly operating from Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Not surprisingly, this website also has the same characteristics as the other two highlighted above.
What’s noteworthy is that all these fake, Indian-origin websites have mentioned contact details which led back to co-working spaces available for leasing through Regus.
It’s unknown whether Regus personnel are aware about these details. If their brand identity has been misused, they can take up legal proceedings against Srivastava Group.
Disclaimer: Information used above is extracted from publicly-accessible open sources and does not constitute any privacy breach or violation. Speculations and conjectures in the report have been wilfully avoided to avoid bias and in accordance with principled ethics of reporting.