By the end of the first decade of 21st Century, a tectonic shift took place on internet – the online social Media consumption overtook porn consumption.
It surprised, nay shocked, all of internet.
The first half, the consumers of the budding social media products were shocked to find that porn was this popular on internet. The other half, the porn consumers, were surprised to find that there was something even more interesting on internet.
This confusion didn’t last long, and soon an union was born – social porn, basically porn getting disseminated through social media platform. With this new development, various social media platforms also began to face new challenges in filtering such content, subject to their own policies. Some initial hiccups besides, most of the prominent social media platforms managed to achieve a significant level of filtering – including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
The one major exception is Twitter.
While Twitter’s policy regarding porn / adult content are rather liberal compared to others, what we observed that Twitter has miserably failed even to its own standards – failed to the levels of allowing child porn and rape videos. Surprisingly, not only the content was most prolific on Twitter, even the access to such content was completely unhindered for any age.
It also appeared that in terms of technology application for content filtering, Twitter appears to lag behind other social media platforms. Twitter’s low ‘IQ’ AI is apparent to any social media user, where Twitter keeps ‘recommending’ random contents in various ‘categories’ which often look like mere ‘key word’ based. The ‘filtering’ or access control on adult/ porn content seem to be governed by no better tools.
This report takes a broader look at various aspects of Twitter’s willing/ unwilling complicity/ failure in filtering/ managing explicit porn content, which is under the category of “Not Safe for Work” or NSF, which is a generic term for videos, websites or any explicit content available on digital media that should not be viewed publicly such as nudity, violence, sexual engagements, and political incorrectness.
The key themes under the report are:
- Violations of the ‘law of land’ in India;
- Violation/ not adhering to its own policies/ norms reg NSFW content;
- Lack of application of adequate technology; and
- Lack of earnestness in dealing with a socio-culturally sensitive theme.
In Broad Daylight
Dis-regard to the ‘Law of Land’?
The ‘local’ regulatory framework for tech companies (or other digital MNCs) is part of a larger debate as to whether the ‘global’ internet platforms should, or even could, comply with various laws from different countries. Several countries, mainly the authoritarian ones like China, have espoused the cause of ‘digital sovereignty’, claiming that like the physical space, the digital space concerning the particular country should also be treated under the sovereign rights of the country. In technical domain, the debate around the desirability or undesirability of such a concept is reflected as ‘splinternet’, where the internet, despite its global connectivity, would consist of different smaller country-specific eco-systems.
While this debate is nowhere near settled, another dimension of this debate often gets overlooked – which is, despite rather glamorous claims of being ‘global’, the social media tech giants – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube among others, are essentially US based companies, and are governed by US laws. In fact, it took the EU to implement GDPR to get a measure of control about how these US based companies manage the interests of the EU netizens. Germany was among the first country to adopt new laws for personal data protection that are harmonized with the GDPR.
The effectiveness of the GDPR is evident beyond borders, as was witnessed recently by DisInfo Lab, where the Twitter informed it about complaint (s) it had received against DisInfo Lab content. And even if Twitter didn’t find anything amiss with the content, it was obliged to inform the client that it had received such complaints. In essence, Twitter, the US company, was strictly following the laws of other countries.
In this context it becomes important to understand, why Twitter does not feel obliged in the same manner to follow the Indian laws.
IT Rule 2021 & Adult Content
On February 25, 2021, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) released the latest Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules. Among other things, the latest IT Rules stipulate that government would make necessary guidelines to put an end to child pornography, rape, and gang-rape imageries, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications. The Rules also called for the accountability of social media platforms about the presence of pornography and spreading of fake news.
However, despite specific and clear instructions, and unlike other social media platforms such as FB, IG & YT; Twitter doesn’t seem to have even attempted to address these concerns, in particular, about hosting and dissemination of pornographic content.
Twitter: Social Media Epicenter of Explicit Content
Porn industry, which was earlier using dedicated websites/ platforms for its content dissemination realized the utility of social media platforms and came to occupy a major chunk of space on such platforms. It was not surprising that the adult content industry created a niche for its content distribution through dedicated channels on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and other image & video sharing platforms.
However, some of the above-mentioned platforms then put into place stringent policies towards tackling pornography and other sexual content online, particularly most sensitive contents such as child porn. As for instance, Facebook and Instagram have put a crackdown on explicit content sharing accounts by either shadow-banning or even suspending them.  These companies seem to deploy a range of measures from AI/ technical screening to manual filtering. For example, the Facebook AI detects nudity almost instantly, filtering the content. In case the content has managed slip through, these platforms remove such content if any user reports the content. The same happens in case of Instagram as the photo & video sharing platform keeps a track of such accounts and bans them after giving a warning. Leaving aside explicit sexual content, some of these social media platforms have gone to control even erotic animations/ cartoons, and nudity.
But not Twitter.
The adult entertainment industry has been operating on the US-based social media platform without any impediment. In fact, ever since Facebook and Instagram put a ban on nudity and sexual content, it has created an outcry in the adult content industry, which heavily depends on such platforms for its sustenance. Twitter therefore became a useful tool.
While it is not clear whether Twitter is willfully ignoring the law of the land i.e., Indian prohibition on public sharing of porn content, or it has been oblivious; it continues to be the hub of vulgar and pornographic content available online. Surprisingly, the extent and nature of such content that is openly available on Twitter, including explicit porn prohibited by law.
Interestingly, several ‘Bluetick’ (verified) accounts and porn-stars freely share explicit videos and pictures with no censorship from Twitter. Twitter allows such accounts on its platforms, which, while does not violate their policies, breaks the law of land as these handles are accessible by the Indian users. It is important to mention that Twitter, like the other social media platforms, do possess technical capabilities to restrict the access of some of its content/ handle to specific geographical location. Therefore, it does not seem to be an issue of technical limitation.
Twitter doesn’t only allow presence of such content, but also helps in its spread. Twitter algorithm governing ‘suggestions’ would guide you to multiple accounts of same niche (porn content) if you happen to search or look at one of the handles. It essentially amplifies the availability of such explicit content to the users.
No Age Bars?
Since Twitter’s target demography age range starts from youngsters to generate more users, the age requirement to operate a Twitter handle is rather low. The minimum age prescribed by Twitter to be eligible for making an account is 13 years. However, despite having a low age bar for user base, Twitter does not have a policy specific to preventing the underage users from viewing such explicit content. Any user who allows the option of “display media that may contain sensitive content” can view such contents marked as sensitive, which includes content depicting pornographic media. No age screening or verification is conducted, and no warning message appears.
To verify this lack of oversight, we created a Twitter account wherein we registered the age as 15 years. We were able to view NSFW content without any restrictions or warning message popping up to prevent us from viewing the content.
This applies even to the users of the age group 13-18 years, who get access to explicit pornographic contents. Twitter barely draws any demarcation between a regular and an objectionable content for the under-aged users.
Twitter Rules vs Reality
While one may still argue about the ‘libertarian’ branding of Twitter (and similarly curated branding of its CEO, Jack Dorsey), there are certain content that even Twitter thinks is objectionable, and doesn’t allow on its platform – or at least claims to.
The micro-blogging platform’s terms of service prohibits the circulation/ posting of sensitive and adult content under its ‘sensitive media policy’. However, the policy, like everything else at Twitter, is rather vague and opaque – whether deliberate or because of incompetence, difficult to say. These policies therefore doesn’t seem to have any effect towards screening such content, as there are still a large number of accounts that share even gruesome pornography/adult content without any restrictions.
Twitter’ ‘Sensitive Media Policy’ – how sensitive?
Twitter’s latest sensitive media policy released in November 2019  states that “You may not post media that is excessively gory or share violent or adult content within live video or in profile header, or List banner images. Media depicting sexual violence and/or assault is also not permitted”.
It implies that any graphic content that involves physical fights, physical child abuse, violent crimes, and bondage content (full or partial nudity) such as simulated sexual acts, sexual intercourse (human, animation or depictions of animals with human-like features) and violent sexual conduct (rapes or unconsented sexual acts and even sexualized crimes) is not allowed. However, the platform does allow graphics with the following exceptions: artistic, medical, health, or educational content.
- Insensitive to Rape videos
Although Twitter discreetly states that it does not permit users to upload violent or adult content on within ‘highly visible’ areas on Twitter, it allows pornography and other adult content to be posted under “sensitive” marked content. This means that sexual content can be uploaded under sensitive media content, which however is accessible to anyone choosing to view the sensitive media content.
And what kind of sexual contents are available unhindered on Twitter? – Rape videos.
Twitters’ NSFW space seems to be operating not only out of the ambit of local laws, but also out of Twitter’s own policy space. Despite Twitter avowing not to allow ‘excessively gory’ content, it is full of rape videos (unless Twitter doesn’t find it gory enough). Some of this content has already been exposed repeatedly and banned by other social media platforms, but Twitter doesn’t seem to be caring. Remember the tragic story of the gang-rape of a girl at the outskirts of Jaipur. While the culprits were apprehended, the video of the ghastly act was posted by the culprits themselves. It’s been years to the incident, but the videos are still available and circulating on Twitter!
- ‘Child Sexual Exploitation Policy’ of Twitter
Twitter introduced its new ‘Child sexual exploitation policy’ in October 2020,  where it claims ‘zero-tolerance’ towards child sexual exploitation, which includes visual depiction of children engaging in sexually explicit activities, promotion of third-party sites that hosts child porn, sending sexually explicit media to children etc.
Unless Twitter has redefined ‘zero tolerance’, it is not following the policy by a long shot. In the Twitter’s porn drainage, a number of accounts share child porn regularly. This not only violates the latest IT rules in India, but it is also in violation of Twitter’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. The videos are otherwise also in violation of Twitter’s ‘gory’ category of ‘permissible porn’, and given the explicit nature of such content, could be very easily identified through any worthwhile filtering mechanism. Worse, the child porn on twitter is accessible to any user, even to young users of Twitter – or to a casual user on internet, which doesn’t have a Twitter account.
Twitter’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ was so effective that AFTER more than six-months of it published its policy, in June 2021, the Delhi Police Cyber Cell filed a complaint against Twitter lodged by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)  for allowing child pornographic content on their platform.
- Non-consensual Nudity Policy
Twitter released its latest non-consensual nudity policy in November 2019  stating that:
“You may not post or share intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent”.
These include sexual acts, nudity etc. captured on hidden cameras, creepshots/up-skirts, morphing of pictures, privately taken intimate pictures not meant for public display etc.
The policy on Non-consensual nudity is rendered ambiguous considering the conditions laid down for posting consensual adult content and pornography. Sharing of non-consensual adult videos/images of people, especially women and children are commonplace on Twitter. Deep-Fake and Morphed pics of actresses and public figures are widely circulated and misused on the platform on Twitter without the knowledge of the featured individual/individuals.
While Twitter does have a mechanism for users to ‘report’ such violations, its implementations are opaque and arbitrary. On similar content it may choose to block one account while similar others continue to operate. Surprisingly, Twitter has offered no tech solutions to identify and filter such content, as other social media platforms do. Unless reported by users, such content can easily be shared under the heading of sensitive content.
- Adult sexual content
This policy comes under the Ads Help Center of Twitter that prohibits paid promotion of adult sexual content such as pornography, escort services, nudity, sex toys, and other activities involving sexual arousal etc.
While twitter does adhere to this part of bargain, now accepting the paid promotions, it nonetheless allows for the promotion of such products and services organically i.e., through regular posts. It means while Twitter may not officially promote the content, it would let it be promoted by third parties. This is in league with the ambiguity Twitter follows regarding the NSFW content in general.
Free for all Services:
While we were fretting about the non-existent filtering and free access to porn to underage users, Twitter’s benevolence goes beyond its user base. Any casual internet user can access Twitter porn without the need to even open an account. Which means, the Twitter age criteria of 13 years is essentially useless as for as access of such explicit material is concerned. Any user can put a query in Google seeking porn content and Twitter will offer its services. In fact, in several cases Twitter was the first suggestion!
The only ‘obstacle’ Twitter imposes – it ‘warns’ you that the content is sensitive.
It goes beyond shocking!
While Twitter may have some policies governing NSWF content, this open access to explicit content to undiscerning minds is a grave risk, and there is a need to fic responsibility for this. While Twitter is obviously not willing/capable of such screening, Google may also have to share the burden, and should take immediate steps to address this anomaly.
Twitter marking – too generic to be effective
In a rather incongruent manner, Twitter has a generic ‘sensitive content’ marking, which does not differentiate explicit porn content from other types of sensitive content. Moreover, as noted above, this filtering is neither governed by age restriction nor by the condition of being a Twitter user.
It should be added that other social media platforms not only have a stricter policy regarding such content but also have age-related restrictions on accessing particularly sensitive content. And it doesn’t take too much of a technical tweaking to ensure that the under-age users do not get access to content that may be harmful to their overall well-being.
Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain whether this lack of filtering mechanism is due to Twitter’s lack of basic technical capabilities or criminal neglect or willfully ignored.
After all, there is economy involved.
Its Economy Stupid
Users are fodders for social media platforms. More the users, more valuation a social media company would have, and fatter the pay-cheque its top executive would draw. Therefore, it is imperative for such platforms to use all means at disposal not only to get new users but also to keep them active. If porn content helps with that, it is hard not to succumb to these temptations. The case seems to be so with the Twitter executives.
The adult content industry’s symbiotic relation with twitter goes both ways: the presence of pornography lures and keeps engaged a number of users; and secondly, it also helps create an economic eco-system, which is more loyal as user, and hence increases Twitter’s number of ‘active users’.
The Twitter based porn economy runs through several means:
- Spreading Porn through DMs promotion (and seeking money)
Several users/ accounts openly sell porn on twitter.
The mechanism is simple: the seller accounts show porn clips, thereby ‘attracting’ customers and creating a ‘brand’. Then they send messages, asking money in exchange of large amount of porn. This conversation moves to DMs. In DMs they then share the links for the pornographic content. Not surpassingly, the links at times redirects to malicious websites.
- Websites (Subscriptions & Only-Fans)
As noted above, Twitter doesn’t allow for ad promotion for pornographic content, but there are multiple ‘porn services’ websites that get promoted on twitter. Interestingly, we came across instances where same set of people/ organizations running multiple websites/ platforms on Twitter – without any filtering/ restrictions. For example, two diff websites (www.flitz.in & www.bindastimes.com) were asking for subscription money for giving access to their content. Only Fans accounts promote their content on twitter by sharing their website links.
Interestingly, as some of the activities are illegal in India, they claim their location to be out of India, while proving contact details and address in India. For example, a casual look at one of the websites revealed that these sites are registered in Kolkata, and their who.is details have both address and contact numbers from Kolkata, India. It is therefore again surprising how Twitter doesn’t even scan for the basic data of a website’s registration
- Slippery Slope to Data theft & Privacy:
Some of the porn content accounts lure the users into filling forms, asking for personal details for a range of things – from ‘one-night stand’ to chats, video and calls etc. However, in order to access these services, the users have to fill forms, such as Google forms, which is not monitored by anyone, not even Twitter.
Among the data collected through such means are mobile numbers & email ids; personal profile (age, marriage status), professional profile and payment details. The personal data so gathered could be exploited from blackmailing to phishing to sell to third parties. A number of such instances have also been reported in public, and there is a possibility that many more would be getting into traps but not coming out openly due to public embarrassment.
- ‘Verified’ Porn by Twitter & at Twitter
Other than the verified (blue-tick) services provided by Twitter to adult content handles/platforms, there is a full-fledged industry flourishing on Twitter which strives to provide authentication services to porn service providers. ‘Live webcam services’ are one of the most popular services on Twitter to sell porn. Thousands of users are offering these services openly on Twitter – selling links/ means to access this service. However, every economic system needs trust – which is acquired through means of standardization. The porn industry on Twitter too has developed its own systems of trust through standardization.
A ‘Dream Job’?
How would you rate a job, where all you need to do is to ‘ascertain’ the authenticity of ‘live porn’? And for that you need not apply anywhere, just open an account on Twitter and make your ways inside the closeted circles of the players in the game –which the Twitter algorithm would help you find.
This is real.
There is a syndicate on Twitter whose job is to ‘verify’ which ‘live webcam’ services are reliable! They do it openly and regularly. Here is how it’s done: a service provider (webcam account) shares the subscription links on twitter for users to login. To gain users’ confidence, the service provider provides names of a set of handles (from a ‘syndicate’) who have verified their services. These handles on their turn re-confirm the claims. Interestingly, most of these syndicate accounts (who verify the authenticity of the service providers) are ‘locked account’, accessible to their followers only.
What does Twitter do and What could Twitter do?
Worth noting that these syndicate accounts, the service providers, and likely consumers exhibit a pattern in their behavior. Scores of accounts that we saw had unvarying message format. Worth also noting that pattern identification is one of the useful tools which Twitter deploys to identify suspected behavior – from bot to organized campaigns, and usually suspends handles. The ’verification’ syndicate creates definite patterns if Twitter was looking for. These handles also use hashtags to amplify their content and reach (e.g. #IndianCamGirl), and these hashtags are rather popular ones. The accounts of these service providers (web-cam accounts) using this hashtag, mention a set of handles in their tweets as verification authorities.
Finding patterned behavior from hashtag is one of the easiest things identify, and should there be need, to deal with it.
That Twitter has allowed this syndicate to flourish could not merely be the question of capability but also of intent, as these users are likely to be most loyal users, and in good numbers. Thanks to this blissful ignorance of Twitter, a full-blown porn economy operates right under the shadow of Twitter – selling and promoting porn through ‘live webcam’.
Indian Cam Girl: A Case Study
One of the major hashtags deployed to promote ‘live webcast’ of porn is #IndianCamGirl, which has been in use for at least four years on Twitter, starting in 2017. The first tweet occurs on 4th January, 2017. This is also one of the most popular hashtags deployed to sell online porn, but also to scam users. A data representation of the #IndianCamGirl since 2017 is shown below:
As it can be seen from the tweet timeline, the graph starts rising exponentially from 2019, and since then has been rising consistently. The single large peak appearing in the graph occurs on 9th August, 2020. Interestingly, there is no downward trend in the graph even after the new IT laws were implemented by India, meaning Twitter did not make any efforts whatsoever to comply with the laws.
Who are Running the Show?
Some of the initial accounts which started using this hashtag frequently are @theindianwife, @subhangna, @deepthi_malaika, @anumalkin, @komalcamgirl, @CamQueen_aish. About 385 accounts were created between 2018 to 2021, whereas 115 accounts were created between 2009 to 2017, who have been using this hashtag. out of the 385 accounts in the last three years, 56 accounts were created in 2018; 110 accounts in 2019; 154 accounts in 2020; 65 accounts in 2021 till now. This linear increase in the number of accounts shows that more and more accounts started using twitter to promote online cam performance in return of money.
And they are Popular:
This industry is not a tiny one, hiding in some dark corner of Twitter which the Twitter tech team is not able to see. The above bubble plot shows the accounts with their date of creation on the x-axis and followers count on y-axis. As is seen, there are several accounts in the category of ‘influencer’, having large number of followers. This shows the extent of their penetration and huge followers base which they have gained using the unregulated platform Twitter provides.
And they are Connected:
A word cloud of #IndianCamGirl revealed another fascinating aspect. Unlike natural market, there is less competition and more cooperation. It was found that the syndicate promotes several handles together, which makes it even easier to find the pattern. Other hashtags like #paidfun, #realcamgirl, #desigirl, #desicamgirl, #desicam etc. are used also to gain followers and customers by widening the reach of these accounts using Twitter.
The above network shows an important pattern. While there are several accounts which are scattered on the outer fringe, they seem to be connected in smaller numbers – meaning, one user connecting another one, likely a ‘close friend’, as the connections are mostly in 2s & 3s. However, there is significantly major network at the center, which is intimately connected. Most of the big accounts are part of this network. People using this network are likely part of a nexus, whose sole purpose is to use Twitter’s unregulared platform to gain followers and get monetary benefits by promoting nude cam-shows.
And they are Sinister
This porn industry, which is also like the underbelly of Twitter, is not merely an innocuous money-making machine, even if vulgar. Like everything else which operates in shadow, it attracts other criminal activities ranging from blackmails and extortions to suicides. Its worst form is reflected as a tool of psychological warfare, targeting the social fabric of India. The next part of the report details how a porn industry becomes a magnet for crime syndicates to anti-India elements.
In The Shadow Of The Dark
Twitter’s vague policies regarding the adult content distribution through its platforms appear a lesser problem compared to the complete absence of any monitoring mechanism to weed out criminal actors exploiting Twitter’s policy towards more serious crimes. One of the most reported cases of online crime belong to the category of blackmails and extortions, which at times have led to rather serious consequences.
There has been a growing number of cases of online blackmails and frauds. This category is so populated that it earned itself a moniker ‘sextortion’. Sextortion, as per FBI’s definition, is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. There have been several cases in India where blackmailers get the access to the private pictures & videos of people, using them to extort money or worse. The ‘cyber criminals’ resort to various means such as creating fake profiles on social media platforms and dating websites in order to honey-trap people and later blackmail them. The practice of ‘sextortion’ has increased over the years due to easy access of internet in the country.
Here are a sample of some of the cases reported: 
- A 40-year-old man from Mumbai falls prey to online sextortion 
- Visakhapatnam man goes nude on video call, blackmailed into paying Rs. 24 lakh 
- 2 Held by Mangaluru Police for Using Social Media Honey-trap to Extort Over Rs 20 L from Businessmen 
- Honey trapping thrives on lockdown loneliness 
While there is no documentation of how many of such victims have been linked with Twitter, the fact that it is one of the most freely accessible platforms for both the consumers and providers, it is not unlikely that a large number of such criminal activities originate from Twitter.
As noted above, the unregulated and unmonitored space provided by Twitter is exploited by the criminal elements with rather remarkable efficiency. The extortion combined with the social taboo that is associated with porn consumption globally, the victims at times have been driven to suicide. The victims of such crimes often resort to harming themselves and even take away their lives. There have been many cases in the country:
Cases of Suicides in India:
- 17-yr-old girl’s suicide bid: 2 minors detained for ‘blackmailing teenage girl with her nude pictures 
- Minor girl commits suicide after ex-boyfriend blackmails her with compromising photos 
- Faridabad businessman blackmailed by honey-trap gang, sets self on fire, dies
- Gujarat girl commits suicide after boyfriend leaks intimate video 
Other than that, there has also been reports about the role of online pornography and explicit content in heinous acts such as child abuse and even rapes in the country. Given the lack of research, and also the associated taboos, many of the victims do not come out, and hence difficult to pinpoint exact numbers. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that the actual numbers would be in multiples of the cases reported.
However, one of the most heinous side effects of this porn underbelly of Twitter was witnessed in the psy-war targeted at Indian users in an effort to exacerbate the religious divide in the country in an orchestrated manner. Appealing to the ‘Alpha male’ psyche of Indian population – both Hindus and Muslims – this nefarious design is meant to instigate two communities against each other, which then could be played up as ‘rising communalism’ in the country.
Alpha Males are Vulnerable
Inter-religious pornography: MStud/HSlut & HStud/Mslut
Pornography could be considered probably the most secular space, not the least because several religions and cultures have explicit injunctions against it. Therefore, it was surprising to find that inter-religious pornography is one of the most prevalent categories of NSFW in South Asia. It is one of the most searched categories among the porn watching public in South Asia. Unfortunately, this inter-religious porn is not contributing to inter-religious faith. It is schadenfreude in reverse that people find reasons to hate while watching ‘love making’!
Sad but True
The inter-religious porn could be both the effect and cause of the seeding hatred amongst the people with different faiths against each other. The communal section of society not only channels their hatred through pornography, but have come to use it as an effective instrument to poison the discourse. The fact that the men of two communities – Hindu and Muslim fantasize about women of the other faith is a poisonous mix of misogyny and communalism.
However, to fantasize is one thing, and to create social media accounts to aggressively promote this divisive narrative is entirely different. A large number of these accounts are created, pretending to be girls, who are shown to be ‘lusting’ over men of other religion while deriding men of their own religion.
It doesn’t add up.
The hundreds, if not thousands, of such handles have been created who are incessantly running the ‘inter religious’ porn propaganda. It goes beyond porn or pleasure. It is an organized campaign with specific objective.
So, a bunch of Hindu girls’ identities are shown to be falling for Muslim boys. And to ‘fight’ this trend, a number of Muslim girls handles start falling for Hindu boys. Hence M-Studs & H-Studs.
It doesn’t end here.
In addition to falling for the ‘studs’ (whose ‘studness’ is determined by their Twitter handle), these ‘girls’ have to demean themselves – hence H-Sluts & M–Sluts. Both Hindu and Muslim women are targeted in an attempt to tarnish their images with the help of morphed pics and use of pejorative terms to prove the ‘slut’ image. It won’t take too much of an imagination to see that these Hindu girls’ handles might be run by Muslim boys and vice versa – each to refill their ‘studness’ online.
It would be comic if it was not tragic.
Interestingly, like everything else on Twitter, this also evolves around hashtags. And if anyone is using a hashtag with porn, it has to be agenda driven. A particular hashtag is made to trend on Twitter to amplify the content.
But who likes to advertise that they are not only into watching online porn but have been pushing a religious agenda along with it?!
If it smells like an info-war, looks like an info-war, and acts like an info-war, then it is an info-war. It is an organized info-war targeted at users of both community with an objective to deepen the religious divide through most susceptible users – misogynistic males with fragile egos. To understand the extent and nature of the campaign, we carried out a details analysis of the hashtags.
#MSlut-HStud & #MStud-HSlut
There are four hashtags being used on almost every post on Twitter in the Indian porn context: #mstud, #mslut, #hstud, #hslut. Most of the time they are used in pairs: #hstud with #mslut & #mstud with #hslut. One sample of the data include:
- A total of 273 accounts tweeting on #mstud/ #hslut pair
- About 84 accounts tweeting on #hstud / #mslut pair
In order to understand their behavior pattern to understand the possible users behind, we plotted these independent hashtags. The tweet timeline between July 2020 and August 2021 for these hashtags are shown below:
A combined plotting of these hashtags also reflects the same beaviour:
As expected, the hashtags have mostly appeared in pairs. The first mention we could find was #mstud & #hslut beginning July 2019. Subsequently, #mslut appears around September 2019 followed by #hstud in Nov 2019. There seems to have been some small battles between the ‘studs’ around Nov 2019, after the #hstud arrived on scene, and there are spikes in such tweets. Subsequent spikes occur again in January 2020 & March 2020, likely corresponding with some mating seasons for online studs. (at least that is how Discovery Channel would see). The interesting point emerging from these tweet timelines is that these hashtags have been used frequently since March 2021, especially after the new IT acts were implemented in February 2021.
So much for the Twitter’s compliance!
What is the agenda?
As would have been clear by now, these hashtag wars are neither social media banters between two unemployed groups nor it has to do with the basic instincts. The pattern observed with the key words show that politically loaded words which are common amongst the users of different hue have also been used while expressing male virility – such as #genocide; #newislam; #pkmkb; and #hindurashtra among others. Surprisingly, #BBC also finds an honorable mention in this crowd. The hashtags cloud associated with these hashtags are shown below:
It is apparent that these hashtags are used essentially to incite communal disharmony on Twitter. This was also evident from the fact that many of these accounts have large number of followers, and there were common accounts tweeting on these hashtags – including same accounts using all the four hashtags.
Handles Created for a Purpose:
To further explore whether there was an organized campaign to push a particular narrative, we plotted the timeline of creation of Twitter handles. Our experience so far has been that most of the inorganic behavior on Twitter – from pushing a hashtag to pushing a particular narrative – is carried through fake handles, and in many cases these handles are created for the particular narrative or similar one.
Pie chart showing number of accounts created. Most accounts created in 2020, followed by in 2021. We can see the gradual increase in the number of accounts created from 2018 onwards, with maximum number of accounts created in 2020. The number of accounts created in 2021 so far seems to follow the pattern, and by the end of 2021 could cross the previous year’s numbers. As per the last count, #mstuds are winning!
- On the #mstud / #hslut pair, 129 accounts were created in 2021 whereas 144 accounts were created in 2020.
- On the #hstud / #mslut pair, 37 accounts were created in 2021 whereas 37 were created in 2020.
The first #mstud tweet appears on 4th February, 2017 and the first #hstud tweet appears on 12th February. A comparison of complete timeline of #mstud and #hstud is shown below.
It can be clearly seen from above graph that both #mstud and #hstud started around same time, in succession. Even though both hashtags seem to be competing with each other and a reaction to the other, one thing common between these two hashtags is that both hashtags were initially started and popularized by big female accounts pretending to be of the opposite faith and luring men to their profiles. Some of the accounts which started the #mstud are @Preeti22Yadav, @maharanirand, @missSanskari, @papiasundari, @DevikaHchhinal, @Nehasharma09 and some of the accounts that started #hstud are @AyeshaB17146928, @ranisha74096406, @ZainabSultana9, @PussyQuinn_.
The above network presents the mutual friendship network of some big accounts from the #mstud and #hstud. The network shows the inter-connectivity between these two sets of accounts, which shows that these accounts are part of a single nexus and promote these communal/interfaith hashtags to promote their content and gain followers from both the sides.The above network presents the mutual friendship network of some big accounts from the #mstud and #hstud. The network shows the inter-connectivity between these two sets of accounts, which shows that these accounts are part of a single nexus and promote these communal/interfaith hashtags to promote their content and gain followers from both the sides.
Really, but Why?
Given the war zone (Twitter), studs (troll army) and the cause (hashtag) it should be obvious that these troll armies would have nothing in common. However, to our surprise, there were a number of handles who were using all the four hashtags together! So unless they were the ‘peace keeping army’ of the United Social Media Nations, it could be sinister.
On the face of it, the primary objective seems to be merely amplifying the narrative of #hstud vs. #mstud with the help of selected handles in the hope to instigate the larger user base to pick one side or other. Once the hashtags are picked by organic users, this may translate into much bigger confrontations, which are bound to spillover to real life from the online. Given the perpetually angry crowd on social media, this would not be a futile attempt.
This proposition is further confirmed by the network connectivity of various users, particularly the influential ones. Not unlike the earlier network graph, this one also exhibits a high level of inter-connectedness. Moreover, given the projected divisions between two camps, this graph should have been divided into broadly two major groups. However, as shown, the core of this network seems to be rather closely related, which further cements the hypothesis that these handles may not be actual users, but are run by same set of people to push a divisive agenda.
The above network shows the inter-connectivity between the accounts using these hashtags. The network shows the nodes connected to each other, and the smaller nodes or accounts are a part of big network. The network also includes some influencers with large number of followers, who collectively tweet using these hashtags to amplify the narrative. These accounts also tag each other in these tweets to further push the hashtag as well as the handles.
While most accounts have followers between 1000-5000 followers, few of them have more than 50K Followers. Some of the major handles part of this nexus are: @MissNiiish, @NaughtyIsh_, @LustKid96, @Milfy_ZKhan, @ImBellaBitch1, @Nusrat_Anjum23, @BimboRani, @ShaliniPanditt. (Pls don’t read the handle names and draw conclusions, these are all likely fake handles.)
The location data from Twitter is rarely reliable (as users have the liberty to fill anything). However, the fact that some of these handles (with explicit adult content) indeed mention the countries where the porn is banned shows that Twitter doesn’t have either the capability or will or both to follow the law of the land. That said, a large number of these handles are as expected do not provide the location.
The pattern is unmissable – the nature of accounts, the location distribution, the number of influencers and the timeline of creation of accounts – all have almost identical model. If these handles would indeed be the ‘religious studs’ as they claim, they would have shown some randomness in their profile. While the possibility of some of the real users getting into this troll-war can’t be ruled out, their involvement is not on only incidental, but also a proof that the design is succeeding. However, what is n not comprehensible is how Twitter has not been able to pick this pattern which can be so easily mapped through Twitter’s API itself. Whether it is negligence, incompetence, or the greed of keeping the users engaged, it has the potential to cause serious damage to society.
Twitter has a base of 17 million users (as of June 2021) in the country. Within such a high demographic usage, it becomes even more crucial to keep in check the fake news, morphed pictures, photos of child abuse, rape clips, sex abuse videos, and similar other content that are shared rampantly on the platform.
However, it seems like the platform’s emphasis on the content generating massive engagements handicaps its ability to tackle the spread of pornographic and abusive content. Porn producers find a lucrative ground on Twitter, after they were blocked from the other mentioned social media platforms. Twitter sees congregation of such a huge number of social media users, that the Porn sites and advertisers find it a go-to platform for advertising their services.
As detailed in the report, beside the usual NSFW content, what is most worrisome is presence of child porn and even rape videos, which could be accessible to any user with an internet connection. Twitter’s ‘zero tolerance’ claim is rather categorical:
“viewing, sharing, or linking to child sexual exploitation (CSE) material, regardless of the intent, contributes to the re-victimization of the depicted children and is prohibited on our service”
However, this seems to be merely another PR exercise with neither competence nor intent is shown to be doing tackling this menace. In June 2021, the National Commission for Women (NCW) called out Twitter for sharing pornographic content and demanded the removal of such content via a press notice. Yet in complete disregard to NCW as well as to India’s IT laws, Twitter not only continues to keep its eyes shut but has also been seem to be enabling such content, which is increasing despite all the laws and policies in place.
Worse, as has been proved repeatedly, including through our various reports, Twitter is the most preferred tool for psy-war against India. Yet, there has been no action whatsoever on behalf of Twitter. In several cases, it doesn’t seem to a question of technical capabilities, as Twitter does take action on similar other activities outside India. Therefore, it could wither be the sheer indifference to a third world brown people or a willful negligence. In either case, the suffering and damage is entirely to the society, while Twitter would continue to fatten its revenue through the larger user base in India.
It would therefore be foolhardy to expect that a US based for-profit company would ever prioritize social concerns of a third world developing country or abide by its laws. However, as users (even if fodders) it should remain our concern to demand transparency and accountability. As one of the biggest user bases, Indian users’ voice should matter. Most importantly, the best antidote to info-war is awareness, and we must continue to expose the nefarious designs being run through Twitter and other social media platforms.
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