A forensic digital online examination by Asia TV of the Rahul Gandhi Twitter bots issue has thrown up interesting facts:
- The BJP IT cell had prior knowledge of the ANI story and it is very plausible that the entire story was ‘fed’ to an ANI reporter.
- The bots issue could have been stage managed by the BJP IT cell, only to discredit Rahul Gandhi – meaning the bots could have been created or hired by the BJP IT cell and the entire so-called expose fed to ANI journalists, who lapped it up. Which means, the BJP IT cell created the bots scam and pinned it on Rahul Gandhi, with the sole intention of falsely trying to show the Congress IT cell in bad light and claim that Rahul Gandhi’s sudden online popularity was the result of hired boosting services.
- The bots or fake Twitter accounts were not hired by the Congress team, but by a third party – who?
According to a post by Pratik Sinha on Altnews.in, all the 10 Twitter accounts that were listed in the ANI article have been suspended. The 10 Twitter accounts were charlot34583589, pkbjdasjyesc557, lawannapuchajd9, yrlkamcsmc1507, madelenegonza14, cherilynzagors6, alinevyverberg2, berniecebenson6, lynettacrabtre7 and bernierogers121.
Two tweets at 1:28 pm on October 21st were the first ones to use the #RahulWaveInKazakh hashtag with one of the tweets being that of BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya, other one posted from a Twitter account called Dr Parag. This is where things get interesting. As we stated earlier, ANI’s article was published at 1:05 pm and was first tweeted at 1:12 pm, says Sinha in his article.
The earliest screenshot at 10:18 was of the account lawannapuchajd9 which is again a part of ANI’s investigation which was published much later at 1:05 pm.
BJP social media volunteer Yogesh Malik shared a Google Doc document with a long list of tweets and screenshots that members of BJP IT Cell could copy/paste. Yogesh Malik frequently shares these documents and was also part of another Alt News investigation on BJP’s #DemonetisationSuccess trend.
This particular Google Doc has screenshots of each one of the 10 accounts that ANI ‘exposed’ and for every screenshot, the time stamp in the document circulated by BJP IT Cell is many hours before ANI article. Did BJP IT Cell have prior knowledge of the contents of ANI’s article?
The ANI article also skips over certain important facts. At least one of the accounts that retweeted Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account also retweeted the tweets of BJP MP Parvesh Sahib Singh who is the Member of Parliament from West Delhi claims Sinha in Altnews.in.
In ANI’s article, it is stated that “The tweet quickly reached 20,000 retweets” while referring to Rahul Gandhi’s tweet. However, 5 out of the 10 accounts that retweeted Rahul Gandhi’s tweet were created the day after his tweet and thus couldn’t have contributed to Rahul Gandhi’s tweet ‘quickly reaching 20,000 tweets’. Again, this is something which ANI’s article fails to mention. Rahul Gandhi’s tweet is dated 15th October while these accounts were created on 16th October.
Another fact that ANI fails to mention is that each one of these 10 accounts had tweeted exactly 1 tweet of Rahul Gandhi. If these bots were indeed hired, it is strange that they haven’t retweeted any other tweets of Rahul Gandhi other than the one highlighted by ANI. That particular tweet received a total of 52,291 retweets+likes. Which would mean that ANI’s article was based on 0.02% of the reactions that exactly one tweet of Rahul Gandhi received. With a sample size of merely 0.02%, on what basis does ANI claim that this has lead to ‘increased popularity’? A claim like that could be made if one can show at least a reasonable bump in retweets+likes for every single tweet. Does ANI have the data to backup their claim, questions Sinha?
ANI has much to explain regarding the shoddy research that has gone into their article. But the far more serious issue is BJP IT Cell tweeting screenshots of the 10 accounts that ANI featured in their article with time stamps of each of the screenshots being many hours before ANI published their article. How did BJP IT cell know that ANI was going to feature those selected Twitter accounts in their article?
Asia TV also found that the BJP IT cell has been using the services of similar bots or click farms from Turkey, Bangladesh and even Pakistan, which they won’t admit to or very cleverly camouflage.
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.
It is quite possible that the BJP IT cell hired their services again, targeted at Rahul Gandhi’s otherwise interesting tweet to take the wind out of the Congress’ sails.