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How the BBC promoted nonsensical AI-based research to claim that Pakistanis were wishing India well during the Covid crisis

The real objective here on the part of the BBC is to turn reality on its head. The public broadcaster wishes to give the impression that India and Indians are the reason why there is no peace between the two countries when Pakistanis harbour immense love for their neighbour.

The BBC and its penchant for painting a tolerant picture of Pakistan while denigrating India is well documented. On Friday, the British public broadcaster discovered a novel method to once again propagandize in Pakistan’s favour, albeit rather subtly.

An artificial intelligence (AI) based study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University apparently discovered that an overwhelming number of tweets by Pakistanis between the 21st of April and the 4th of May were “positive”.

BBC promotes nonsensical AI-based 'research'
The BBC headline of the report

For convenience, the researchers looked at 3 hashtags #IndiaNeedsOxygen, #PakistanStandsWithIndia and #EndiaSaySorryToKashmir and then passed the tweets from Pakistan through what they call a “hope speech classifier”. It apparently a language processing tool that helps detect ‘positive comments’.

Ashiqur Khudabukhsh, the one who led the study, said, “Our research showed that there’s a universality in how people express emotions. If you search randomly, you’ll find positive tweets a little over 44% of the time. Our method throws up positive tweets 83% of the time.”

According to the BBC report, the study found that “tweets containing supportive hashtags originating in Pakistan heavily outnumbered those containing non-supportive hashtags and also had substantially more likes and retweets.”

Sophisticated nonsense is still nonsense

Needless to say, the methodology, at least the manner in which it was described in the BBC report, is shoddy to say the least and it is bizarre to reach such far reaching conclusions from such a faulty premise.

First of all, there’s the selection bias in terms of the hashtags that were chosen. There is nothing to indicate that they are representative of all the tweets made by Pakistanis during the same period. Furthermore, two of them are preordained to throw up more positive results as compared to one which was preordained to have adverse comments.

The ‘study’, if it can even be called that, does not say how many hashtags trended on Twitter during the same period. For instance, there could be 4 or 5 anti-India hashtags that trended in the top 10 during the same period. But since only one featured in the top 3 section, only one of them was eventually selected for the study.

Furthermore, if multiple hashtags were used to trend anti-India content, then it is only inevitable that each hashtag individually is likely to contain fewer negative comments in absolute numbers than the one hashtag that was used to trend positive comments.

It is likely that multiple hashtags were used to trend positive comments as well but the study makes no mention as to how many hashtags were trended in total and how many of them fell into each category. In short, the ‘study’ makes no effort to determine whether the top-3 hashtags are representative of the total number of tweets made by Pakistanis during the time frame in question.

Researcher bias and sample bias is evident

On the basis of the above reasoning, it can be said for certain that researcher bias crept into the ‘study’. Of course, it is far more likely that the researchers tailored their ‘study’ in such a way that they reached their desired conclusion.

The sample was biased too since the ‘study’ makes no effort to clarify whether the tweets they had chosen were representative of all the tweets made by Pakistanis during the same period. The so-called ‘study’ can be safely dumped in the junkyard of ‘pop-Science’.

Such ‘studies’ will obviously not be taken seriously by any researcher worth their salt. But it is the BBC we are talking about, so quite obviously, they wholeheartedly bought into the feel-good nonsense that was sold to them.

BBC has its personal history of publishing nonsensical ‘research’

During the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BBC published research what could only be described as garbage in order to claim that nationalism was the driving factor behind fake news in India. The study had several structural design flaws, the most glaring being that it was qualitative research the findings of which could not be normalised for the whole population.

During their research, they also failed to take into account the entire set of topics on which fake news is abundant and limited its scope to only politics. Then they used heavily biased sources for their source of fake news which inevitably biased their entire study.

Ultimately, the BBC had to pull down their study after OpIndia published several articles punching several holes into. It seems the broadcaster has not learnt its lessons and is now back to promoting nonsensical research by others to peddle nonsense that they find politically convenient.

What do the Pakistanis really think?

While the BBC did produce a few tweets that showed sympathy towards India during the second wave, it is only natural that such tweets will always be available. As for the retweets and likes on them, the ‘study’ they cited does not mention whether the majority of them came from Indians or Pakistanis themselves.

Similarly, OpIndia could find a torrent of tweets where Pakistanis can be found mocking India’s plight during the Covid-19 crisis. And it would not prove anything the other way for the same reason that BBC producing a few positive tweets does not proving anything either.

But what we can make a safe bet on is the policy of the state of Pakistan against India. And it is a known fact that while western countries, especially the USA, continue to treat Pakistan as their trusted ally, its human rights abuses against its Hindu minority continues unabated.

At the same time, while it is true that India and Pakistan have signed a ceasefire agreement recently, hostilities between the two countries continue and our neighbour is still waging a proxy war against us.

Thus, all such talk of Pakistanis harbouring a goodwill towards India is meaningless when the proxy war continues. Furthermore, there is sufficient indication even from social media platforms that Pakistanis do not really have profound love for Indians.

The objective of the BBC

The real objective here on the part of the BBC is to turn reality on its head. The public broadcaster wishes to give the impression that India and Indians are the reason why there is no peace between the two countries when Pakistanis harbour immense love for their neighbour.

Western media has no love lost for India and it is only natural that they seek to blame India for everything under the Sun. The latest ‘study’ that was promoted by the BBC is another effort towards that end.

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Searched termsBBC study pakistan
K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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