Exposed: the 'Twitter army' pushing a pro-Gupta agenda

Twitter Logo
Twitter Logo

An analysis of more than 100 vocal social media accounts reveals what appears to be a “fake Twitter army” which is pushing a pro-Gupta agenda.

The accounts are responsible for thousands of tweets and retweets which share exactly the same narrative – they are highly critical of the state capture report compiled by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

Singing from the same hymn sheet‚ they lambaste the media‚ Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the “Stellenbosch Mafia“. #HandsOffGuptas is the common chorus.

Twitter user Jean le Roux ?published the identity of 106 Twitter accounts on the social network on Monday which had pumped out 18 000 tweets in just seven days.

“This is a list of the 106-odd fake accounts and their ‘main’ account. Each follows the same tweeting pattern for every cluster‚” he said.

The accounts retweet messages that are pro-Gupta and anti Madonsela. “The data points to the fact that there IS a concerted effort to create or perpetuate the impression that there is support for an agenda‚” he said in a tweet.

Le Roux declined to be interviewed to discuss his detailed analysis but a second analysis of the accounts by TMG Digital has found that dozens of them were created on the same days‚ often within minutes of each other.

The first 15 accounts were created on July 22‚ 2016 starting at 10.51am. The most recent of the more than 100 accounts were created on October 16‚ 2016 when 18 new accounts were set up between 10.46am and 2.16pm.

The modus operandi appears to involve setting up a main account which is linked to a cluster of accounts which mimic each others’ tweets.

For example‚ an account for patrick naki (@Naki–Jacket) was created on September 1 at 2.42pm. An account for zandeele (@zandeele99) was created minutes later on the same day‚ at 2.53pm.

Both accounts were retweeting identical messages‚ at the same time‚ on November 8: “#TalkLeftWalkRight Johann Rupert is Stellenbosch Mafia. Rupert give EFF money to defeat Zuma“. This was followed by‚ “#TalkLeftWalkRight Pravin is an agent of white monopoly capital. Defend Pravin!“.

The issue raises questions about the much-talked-about issue of #paidtwitter‚ whether people are paid to push a line on social media.

Technology expert Arthur Goldstuck said on Tuesday that fake accounts were common on Twitter.

“People must understand fake accounts are very widespread. If people are saying outrageous things [online] it must be taken with a pinch of salt.”

Goldstuck said that fake accounts existed for a number of reasons.

Some can be parody accounts‚ like those created to mock controversial figures like Donald Trump or Julius Malema. Other fake accounts may be marketing accounts‚ which push out product information on behalf of companies‚ or accounts created to be sold to buyers to increase their Twitter following.

“Fake accounts to bully people are pretty common as well‚” Goldstuck said.

According to Goldstuck sorting the fake from the genuine is usually pretty simple.

“If they’re praising someone lavishly and there isn’t much information about them [in the account’s profile] or it’s their first tweet‚ it’s obvious [that the account is fake].” — TMG Digital