Pro-Gupta bots unmasked

10 July 2017 - 06:47
File photo.
Image: iStock File photo.

The Twitterati has come to the defence of South Africa’s democracy by outing fake pro-Gupta Twitter accounts. The software-run accounts — known as Twitter bots — have been used to promote the “white monopoly capital” narrative. Many were created in India.

The accounts have been singing the praises of pro-Gupta supporters, such as Mzwanele Manyi and Andile Mngxitama, and harassing journalists reporting on the embattled family. Many Twitter accounts, such as “Esaia Theron”, have been shown to be fake.

“Theron”, whose profile describes himself as a “fishthinker ”, tweeted yesterday: “We all have to admit that @Mngxitama is the greatest of all so much passion he has for the improvement of the country. #BLF” “Theron” was referring to Andile Mngxitama, the leader of Black First Land First.

Mngxitama, who is allegedly on the Gupta payroll, was interdicted by the Johannesburg High Court on Friday from harassing journalists. Eye Witness News reporter Barry Bateman is one of many reporters targeted by the bots, picking up 500 new fake followers daily. He was forced to lock his account to protect it.

After doing so, the “Theron” bot mocked Bateman, saying: “Author of Behind The Door now goes behind the door.” Bateman wrote the book, Behind the Door, after the murder of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius. “Theron” threatened B ateman after he blocked his account. “#BarryBateman stay protected … if you ever thought of unprotecting your account, better be prepared for us!”

Johannesburg marketing strategist Andrew Fraser, who has analysed many bots, said they are easy to identify by their strange names, identical profiles and that they all tweet the same thing at the same time. Using online tools, he found many were generated in India.

Last week, after publishing his findings on Twitter bots and fake accounts that follow Gupta supporters, Fraser had a series of attempted hacks on his account. In November Jean le Roux, a digital IT forensic analyst, found 106 fake accounts most of which criticised former public protector Thuli Madonsela and tweeted “HandsofdtheGuptas”. The latest Twitter bots are easily identifiable by their fake names, such as Bongi Vorster and a blonde woman named Iminathi Junior.

The most popular names for the fake accounts are inspired by the South African cricket team. Fraser found a tool called Fake Name Generator, which can create 3, 000 names in seconds. He found that bots follow accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers so as to appear legitimate. An analysis found 60% of Manyi’s followers were fake. Anonymously run website White Monopoly Capital Leaks said yesterday Fraser and Le Roux were on the payroll of white-run media companies.