Narrative attacks and disinformation plagued the 2024 general election in Pakistan, encompassing accusations of rigging, the circulation of deep fakes, and the viral spread of social media posts suggesting international football players participated in the voting process. 

More than a month after the disinformation-afflicted election, Pakistan is facing continued internet disruptions amid protests. Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform analyzed social media posts around the time of the election and uncovered trends that culminated in post-election chaos. Various claims were context-checked using Compass by Blackbird.AI.

On January 31, former Prime Minister Imran Khan received his fourth sentence since 2022 – and his third within one week – days before the February 8 election. Social media users supporting his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), claimed this was part of the process of “pre-election rigging” and that the additional seven-year marriage law violation sentencing that both Khan and his wife received was an attempt to sway religious voters. Many social media users asserted that the charges against Khan were “fake” and “frivolous.”

On the eve of the election, two explosions targeted election offices in Balochistan, located near the country’s borders with Iran and Afghanistan, killing at least 30 and injuring dozens. Authorities responded by increasing police and military presence at polling stations and instituting an internet blackout on election day. Under increased security measures, polling staffers faced challenges accessing documents to verify vote counts properly.

This Constellation activity graph shows increased social media conversations related to Form 45 collection and ballot manipulation on election day, February 8.

Blackbird.AI’s Constellation platform discovered a significant spike in social media posts mentioning cellular and internet outages in Pakistan on election day. Some users expressed concerns about the internet outage delaying the collection of formal “Form 45” vote tabulation documentation, fearing that the military-backed interim government used the outage to manipulate the results. PTI’s official social media accounts called on voters to wait outside polling stations for Form 45s to be delivered.

This Blackbird.AI Constellation network graph shows the interactions between social media users and PTI official accounts discussing Form 45. Anomalous behavior is depicted in red, and more authentic amplification is shown in green.

Deep Fakes Target PTI Party Members

The night before the election, videos began circulating on social media in the likeness of both Khan and another PTI party member urging supporters to boycott the election. From February 7 to 8, social media users discussed the AI-generated videos, with some accounts supporting PTI’s appeal to stay away from videos not shared directly from PTI’s official accounts. FRANCE 24’s February 8 edition of the show Truth or Fake discussed the circulation of these deep fake videos. Compass by Blackbird.AI provided additional context to the news analysis, sharing that Khan clarified that there would be no election boycott and that the videos were fake.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI

The PTI party website was blocked in Pakistan after uploading Form 45 vote tabulation forms. Social media users turned to alternative ways of verifying votes, such as sharing Github and Google Drive links to the proper forms. As polling data came in, Khan appeared to be leading over military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. PTI party members ran as independents after they were barred from using the party’s cricket bat symbol to help illiterate voters find them on the ballot in a country where around 40% of the population cannot read. These candidates associated with Khan’s party were positioned to secure the majority of votes in the parliamentary elections. 

Imran Khan’s AI-generated victory speech

On February 9, as the votes continued to be tallied favorably for Khan, his official YouTube page released an AI-generated "victory speech" using notes he conveyed to his lawyers from prison. This was not the first time AI was used in this election. Holding digital rallies on social media platforms, Khan employed AI technology to campaign from prison.

Khan’s official social media account shared the speech with the text “AI version.” Compass by Blackbird.AI provided additional context to the Urdu-language video with links to various news outlets corroborating PTI’s significant lead in the election.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Nawaz Sharif, whose PML-N party secured the second-largest majority of seats, also gave a victory speech on February 9. Allegations of rigging ramped up after the results released on February 11 showed independent candidates backed by PTI in the majority, with no clear winner yet announced. 

International Football Players Cast Ballots in the 2024 Pakistan General Election

The day after the election, a social media post emerged with a video purportedly showing voting slips issued by international football players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Junior, Kylian Mbappe, and Lionel Messi. Regional news outlets shared the video as well. They provided little additional context apart from the allegations of rigging surrounding the election, suggesting that these viral videos and memes can be difficult to verify or contextualize. Compass by Blackbird.AI generated additional context to the claim in this viral video.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

Nationwide Social Media Disruption in the Aftermath of the Election

On February 17, a Pakistani official admitted to election rigging, saying “independent candidates who were winning” the election were made to lose. That same day, cybersecurity watchdog NetBlocks shared that a social media disruption was detected across Pakistan. In the days following the election, Pakistan began facing escalating unrest as allegations of election fraud gained traction. Compass by Blackbird.AI contextualized the social media disruption with a full picture of nationwide protests in Pakistan.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

PTI’s Reaction to Coalition Government Announcement

On February 20, after PML-N and PPP announced the formation of a coalition with smaller parties, the official PTI social media accounts used the hashtag #MandateThieves. The PML-N and PPP parties won fewer seats than independent candidates backed by PTI in the election. Compass by Blackbird.AI links to reputable sources in a context-check of this tweet, explaining the verbiage used and its implications.

This claim was checked by Compass by Blackbird.AI.

The Way Forward

The government formation standstill ended on February 29, with Shehbaz Sharif—PML-N party leader Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother—assuming the role of prime minister again. The controversial general election continues to present economic and political challenges for Pakistan, threatening its $3B deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

In light of the events in Pakistan, heightened awareness of disinformation is paramount as multiple countries prepare for elections this year. The pervasive use of deep fakes underscores the need to remain vigilant, as generative AI technologies can manipulate public perception by creating false narratives. Blackbird.AI’s Constellation Narrative Intelligence Platform can help detect, measure, gain context, and prioritize risk by understanding the narratives, the influence behind them, the networks the narratives touch, the anomalous campaigns that scale them, and the groups of users that connect them.

Context-checking is crucial for combating the spread of disinformation. Blackbird.AI offers innovative solutions to safeguard organizations and individuals against the damaging effects of misinformation and disinformation-driven narrative attacks. Our core technology products, including the RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and Compass by Blackbird.AI, seamlessly integrate with Constellation, our cutting-edge AI-powered narrative intelligence platform. This combination gives organizations a comprehensive, real-time view of emerging narrative attacks, enabling them to proactively mitigate the significant financial and reputational risks associated with these threats.

To learn more about how Blackbird.AI can help you in these situations, contact us here.

Emily Kohlman
BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.