22 Apr 2019

Chowkidars: The Few, the Loud and the Quiet

Of about 26,000 Chowkidars on Twitter in Uttar Pradesh, just 10 per cent are responsible for 70 per cent of all tweets. Coordinated campaign or genuine support? We look at the data.

Zoya Wahi

As Prime Minister Modi launched his “Main Bhi Chowkidar” campaign, we decided to track everybody in Uttar Pradesh who updated their handles to become Chowkidars. It isn’t often that such an easy signal becomes available for committed supporters of a political party. Between Sunday, March 17, when Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet became Chowkidars on Twitter, and Friday April 19, UP’s 26,000 Chowkidars tweeted 850,000 times.

A closer look left us surprised — only 1300 chowkidar handles were responsible for half of all these tweets. In other words, these users tweeted 463,000 times during this period — making an average of 356 tweets each over a month, or approximately 11-12 tweets each per day.

The most active Chowkidar tweeted more than 9000 times during this period.

Diving in, we found 10 per cent, or 2600 chowkidars, were responsible for 70 per cent of all tweets by this group. That’s the grey area in the chart above.

So the quieter chowkidars — about 24,000 people — posted just ten tweets each over the course of a month. That’s the blue area in the chart above.

The loudest day for tweets from Chowkidar handles in UP came on Wednesday, March 20, when one of the Mai Bhi Chowkidar songs was released, as well as when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi.

The next significant bump came on Saturday, April 6 — the BJP’s Foundation Day.

A closer reading of the chart above further suggests an interesting phenomenon around the two polling days in UP so far.

During Phase 1 polling on Thursday, April 11, we saw a lot of chatter from BJP supporters. A qualitative analysis of the tweets for the day, suggested a confident tone in statements about a total sweep. But by evening, the tone was more guarded, and some (in particular from RLD Candidate constituencies) expressed concern.

During Phase 2 polling on Thursday, April 18, the average volumes started to show a dip in the morning, that trend continuing through the rest of the day.

It looked like the Chowkidars chose to quietly focus on what was going on, there were few predictions and even fewer sweeping declarations of #उत्तरप्रदेश_74पार (the green shadowed areas in the chart above).

In fact this hashtag was abandoned the day the BJP released its manifesto on Monday, April 8. The focus shifted to #FirEkBarModiSarkar from around March 31 (the red peaks in the chart above).

We also noticed about 1000 handles have continued to tweet and engage consistently (the grey line), but both tweets and engagement from the quiet 90 per cent (the blue line in the graph above) has fallen by over 50 per cent in this period.

We cannot tell yet if these 1000 are real passionate supporters, or bots, or members of an IT cell but as we continue to crunch this dataset, we are seeing markers of coordinated behaviour. This could well be because they all believe in the same cause, but we are interested in seeing how this subset continues to behave over the course of this election, especially when compared to the larger group of Chowkidars, and all other twitter users in Uttar Pradesh. We will continue to post updates.

These notes are an experiment in data-driven points of view. We are immersing ourselves in information screens and data patterns and allowing ourselves to connect dots. We emerge to write a note — like the one you’re reading — which is our best understanding at a given moment in time. We believe ourselves to be correct in the moment, but are happy to be proven wrong. In either case we learn and improve.

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