News Agency ANI put out a story this morning, questioning whether Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's twitter followers were automated ones 'mass retweeting' his posts. However, this would not be the first time that a mass leader's followers were behind suspect activity on Twitter.
ANI says that Rahul Gandhi's twitter handle 'OfficeofRG' has been the topic of various news outlets recently, citing a rise in retweets as evidence of a resurgence of Rahul Gandhi's interaction on social media. The agency said that a cursory glance at the twitter handles retweeting the Congress Vice President's tweets does throw up some questions...are these automated 'bots' mass retweeting Rahul Gandhi's tweets?
Specifically, the news agency says that on October 15th, 'OfficeofRG' retweeted US President Donald Trump's tweet praising American-Pakistani relations with a caption 'Modi ji quick, looks like President Trump needs another hug'. The tweet quickly reached 20,000 retweets and currently has touched 30,000 re-tweets.
Analysing the tweets, ANI says alleged 'bots' with a Russian, Kazakh or Indonesian characteristic were routinely RT-ing the Congress VP's tweets. Further scrutiny of these Twitter accounts showed that the follower list was usually under 10 users and retweets comprised of random topics from across the world and those of Rahul Gandhi, the agency said.
The agency also put out a list of the following accounts they thought were suspect.
Now, a similar pattern of off-shore account tweeting to make hashtags trend was spotted by Ankit Lal, who heads social media for the Aam Aadmi Party. In a piece for DailyO in June last year, Lal took instances of three hashtags to show how Prime Minister Modi's visits trended on Twitter.
Lal wrote that for a specific hashtag- #ModiInQatar, the third highest number of tweets were generated from Suphan Buri in Thailand. When the PM was in Switzerland and #ModiInSwitzerland was trending, Lal wrote that analytics revealed that the fourth-highest users on that trend were from Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, another place in Thailand. Users from Suphan Buri again featured tenth in making #ModiInMexico trend.
Lal raised two questions at the end of that piece, asking whether BJP supporters were using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to mask their IP addresses, or whether the party had hired a marketing agency out of Thailand.
A Twitter audit of PM Modi's personal account and Rahul Gandhi's accounts revealed that while Gandhi's audit score is 51 percent (meaning 49 percent fake followers) Modi stands at 36 percent with 22,003,269 suspicious accounts following him.
Here are screenshots from the audit:
After the Rahul Gandhi controversy erupted this morning, Union Minister Smriti Irani also tweeted the ANI story. Now, handles friendly to the Congress have charted out what Irani's followers look like, labelling her the 'queen of fake followers'.
And presenting the queen of fake followers having 60% (2.8 million) fake followers. From doubtful degree to fake followers, what next? pic.twitter.com/yojekrZTlv— Friends of Congress (@friendscongress) October 21, 2017
ANI credited the 'resurgence' of Rahul Gandhi on social media to a news report claiming that the Congress had roped in Big Data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica for a more targeted digital campaign to woo voters.
Cambridge Analytica was in the news during the US Presidential election cycle last year for advising Donald Trump in precision voter targeting based on online habits of voters in different states.
When asked about this apparent inorganic spike Divya Spandana/ Ramya, the new Congress chief of Social Media and Digital communications told the agency, "On Twitter one tweets and what happens after that is not in our control. You will have to speak to Twitter to get clarity."
Spandana later took to twitter, calling the story 'factually wrong'.
Story is factually wrong. Can understand your eagerness to please the I&B ministry and the Bots Janata Party. https://t.co/qQfqi6jMfc— Divya Spandana/Ramya (@divyaspandana) October 21, 2017
BJP's Amit Malviya, in-charge of the party's national Information and Technology, tweeted saying: "Rahul Gandhi should have known that popularity can’t be bought, certainly not from Russia, Kazakhstan. Congress’ social media dream aborted?"