An American doctor has confirmed that her picture was used falsely in a Twitter account allegedly set up to garner votes for Durban in the We Love Cities competition run by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Speaking to The Mercury from the US, Tara Veroni confirmed that the profile picture of Twitter user @jones_britta was hers and that she did not give permission for anyone to use it.
“I have never been to South Africa and I do not know anyone named Brittaney Jones,” said Veroni.
The picture was removed by whoever is running the account on Monday night.
On Tuesday, The Mercury revealed that multiple Twitter accounts had been set up for the same purpose.
These accounts, created in the past two months, all followed each other and only tweeted using the hashtag #welovedurban.
Several accounts have been deleted in the past 24 hours, including: @Alixking2070C, @emmalinewillia1, @elaynedavis4622, @namwilliams6405, @marcelamoore580, @ashley_bowden1, @kathypope21, @Tumelo_Ndini, @Debbie_Menkjies, @Faith_Ruthford.
Many other suspected fake accounts apparently slowed down on Tuesday. Profile pictures were removed or replaced with the #welovedurban logo.
The We Love Cities competition “aims to highlight and support positive actions taking place in rapidly growing cities”, according to the WWF website.
The first part of the competition has already taken place, and Cape Town was selected as South Africa’s Earth Hour City capital on February 4. The second part of the competition started on January 17 and will end in an awards ceremony in Vancouver on March 27, when the We Love Cities Award will be given to one of 31 qualifying cities around the globe which has won “the people’s vote”.
Residents of the city have to post to their social media accounts, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, using the hashtag #welovedurban, for example. The city with the most posts wins.
Carver Media, the agency awarded R500 000 by the city to run the #welovedurban campaign, said: “These accounts could have been set up by anyone; we do not know where they are coming from.”
Company owner Praneetha Aniruth said: “Fake accounts exist.” She cited eThekwini Speaker Logie Naidoo’s parody account @DbnChaarou as an example.
Company co-founder Avilash Aniruth said: “We deny any allegations and cannot be held responsible for everyone that tweets using the hashtag #welovedurban.”
When asked why anyone would fabricate a web of fake accounts to tweet about #welovedurban if they had nothing to gain, they declined to comment.
An alleged fake Instagram community has also been discovered that is similar to the Twitter one, whereby accounts have been created in the past few months and solely used to instagram pictures with the hashtag #welovedurban.
One account, “durbanfun”, has used pictures belonging to photographer Andrew Main. His father, John, said on Tuesday night: “Andrew has been in Singapore for the past two and a half years.”