Close

Donate today to keep Global Voices strong!

Our global community of volunteers work hard every day to bring you the world's underreported stories -- but we can't do it without your help. Support our editors, technology, and advocacy campaigns with a donation to Global Voices!

Donate now

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Analysis: How Pakistani Politicians and Fake Accounts Drove Twitter Trends on Lahore's Rare Political Violence

Meme with images from Lahore clashes that was shared 1300 times on Facebook. Caption says Lahore: Evidence of the brutality of the police and Rana Sanaullah (Punjab government's Law Minister). Share this image and tell the Punjab government to go to hell. Photo credit: PanjtanPoint.com Facebook page.

This image from the Lahore clashes was shared 1,300 times on Facebook. Translation of the Urdu caption: Evidence of police and government brutality. Share this image and curse the Punjab government. Photo credit: PanjtanPoint.com's Facebook page.

In Pakistan's second largest city Lahore violent clashes between police and supporters of a newly energized political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) resulted in eight deaths and left at least 80 injured. 

Lahore is the capital of Punjab province, and political violence here is rare. It is also the home city of the country's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; his brother Shahbaz Sharif is the province's chief minister.

Twitter users in Pakistan picked up on the incident immediately. Three different hashtags that specifically targeted the government soon spread.

This post analyses these hashtags, traces where they originated from and looks at how they spread.

The story behind the violence

Horrific photos of women and elderly supporters of PAT being violently beaten by police quickly spread on social media, accompanied by tweets and posts from the party's chief from his home in Canada under the hashtag #StateTerrorism. 

It is unclear who started the violence. In the wee morning hours of June 17, 2014, police attempted to remove security barriers placed outside PAT chief Tahirul Qadri’s home and the head office of a religious organization he also happens to head in a residential area of Lahore known as Model Town. Police say local residents had been complaining about the blocs disrupted their movement. The party claims it has a court order allowing them to have the barriers.

#StateTerrorism

Mining for all three hashtags stopped at 9:30 p.m. Pakistani time on June 18, 2014.

As soon as police arrived at the head office, the official English-language account of the party's leader, which has just under 95,000 followers, began tweeting with the hashtag #StateTerrorism condemning the police and the ruling Sharif family. When police began to bulldoze the barriers, the rhetoric continued, including calls for an uprising as he has done many times before in recent years. 

In tweets that seemed to prophesize the unusual violence, he warned that he would not be responsible if any fighting broke out. His account published variations of the veiled threat before and after the clashes.

His Urdu-language account, @TahirulQadriUR, which has 23,500 followers, would go on to send 152 tweets using the #StateTerrorism hashtag between June 17 and 18. 

In the same time period, a total of 9,362 #StateTerrorism tweets were published on Twitter. The tweets had a total of 82,389 combined retweets. 

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #StateTerrorism with the most retweets.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #StateTerrorism with the most retweets.

At least 200 tweets were sent at 12 a.m. on June 17, before the violence in Lahore, with the hashtag peaking at 10 a.m., around the time the clashes broke out, with over 1,000 tweets. 

Frequency of #StateTerrorism tweets

Frequency of #StateTerrorism tweets

Some of Qadri's tweets were retweeted hundreds of times, like this one:

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #StateTerrorism the most by number of tweets.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #StateTerrorism the most by number of tweets.

Other accounts simply tweeted the hashtag #StateTerrorism with nothing else. This appears in 12 tweets such as those from @Arslan__Sherazi, @auoazain and @Hassan23Zohaib.

The text “Situation is very tensed on ground,they r doing heavy shelling”Several workers seriously injured. #StateTerrorism #Pakistan” was tweeted 11 times from accounts such as @abdullahabid786, @abdulmajeedhnd, @abidmughal786, @kkminhajian & @majidhnd.

#TalibanSharif

The #TalibanSharif hashtag trying to vilify the ruling government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, even though the government is currently engaged in a war with the Taliban in the north, began appearing on Twitter in the morning of June 17, 2014. It was included in up to 1,247 tweets, and these tweets had a total of 2,866 combined retweets.

The hashtag was propelled by a massive network of fake accounts. The text #Shahbazshareef is the culprit behind killing of #minhaj ul #Quran members.#Nawaz #shareef & his brother r #agents of #Dajjal#TalibanSharif was tweeted by 98 different Twitter accounts.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #TalibanSharif the most by number of tweets.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #TalibanSharif the most by number of tweets.

Most of these handles were the same except for the last few characters or numbers.

Out of the 98 Twitter accounts mentioned above, 68 had “gohar” in the handle and 48 were “AyeshaGohar” with the last few characters or numbers changed.

The AyeshaGohar accounts included Ayeshagohar7, Ayeshagohar11, AyeshaGohar12, AyeshaGohar13, AyeshaGohar24, AyeshaGohar66, AyeshaGohar124, AyeshaGohar150, AyeshaGohar410, AyeshaGohar461 and others.

There were other multiple accounts as well, such as AbidGohar (@AbidGohar1, @AbidGohar3 and @Abidgohar34), nusratgohar (@NusratGohar1, NusratGohar8), and YasmeenGohar (yasmeengohar7 and yasmeengohar9).

The tweets peaked about 11 a.m. around the time of the violence and spiked two more times afterward. 

Frequency of #TalibanSharif tweets

Frequency of #TalibanSharif tweets

The following had the most retweets for the #TalibanSharif accounts. They happened to belong to Twitter accounts of rival political party workers PTI:

#GulluButt

Gullu Butt was a man identified damaging cars during the violence. He was detained, and on his way to his first court appearance was attacked by a mob outside the court. He was later given a brief sentence.

Tweets linking him to the ruling PML-N popped up soon after he was seen smashing vehicles. Mainstream media have also labeled him a PML-N worker and a goon used by dirty cops. 

The #GulluButt hashtag saw a total of 1,149 tweets and 1,234 combined retweets.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #GulluButt the most by number of tweets.

The Twitter handles that used the hashtag #GulluButt the most by number of tweets.

A politician from Karachi city, where there is a history of political violence, tweeted:

This Twitter user quotes a popular TV pundit saying Gullu Butt was hired by the government to take out Tahirul Qadri's son:

Immediately after the violence, the Punjab government filed official charges against 3,000 workers of Qadri's party. In turn, Qadri's people have formally filed charges against the Punjab government. Opposition parties are united in their condemnation of the ruling government's handling of the situation.

The prime minister's brother and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has vowed to resign if he is found responsible for the violence. 

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site