New Delhi: 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. However, 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?
Modi ji quick; looks like President Trump needs another hug pic.twitter.com/B4001yw5rg
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 15, 2017
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.
A close analysis of this tweet showed that these 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. Moreover, the content of these twitter timelines comprised merely of retweets and a lack of tweets which could be categorised as an original thought.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘resurgence’ on social media also goes hand in hand with another 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 wrote back, “On Twitter one tweets and what happens after that is not in our control. You will have to speak to Twitter to get clarity.”
Fake Twitter followers and ‘bots’ going on Retweet frenzies is not a new phenomenon. An exhaustive report in the New York Times in 2013, mentions the burgeoning business of fake Twitter profiles and ‘bulk sales of retweets’. The newspaper quoted a reseller of retweets as saying, “Business is great…had hired a couple of freelance programers, a kid could bypass Twitter’s defences.”