Durban - Fake social media accounts used to promote Durban in a global competition have been traced to the home and business of the company at the centre of the debacle.
Carver Media won a R500 000 tender from the eThekwini Municipality to encourage social media users to tweet #welovedurban and win the WWF’s sustainable cities social media competition.
The company owns the I Love Durban brand and each tweet for #welovedurban counted as a vote promoting Durban’s popularity.
Last week, Carver Media was accused of being behind the elaborate web of interlinking fake Twitter accounts, all retweeting each other and using the hashtag #welovedurban to score points in the competition – which company owner Praneetha Aniruth denied.
One of these, the Twitter account, @DarbyAndrianaDa or DurbanChick, among at least 10 known fake accounts still in operation at the weekend, had the locater embedded in it.
By clicking on the location tag of tweets, a user is taken to the Google map of the tweeter’s location.
On Twitter, the user has the option of turning off the location feature which pinpoints where the tweet comes from.
However, the locater on DurbanChick tweets was left on and diverted to a Google map of the Carver Media offices and the home of the Aniruths in uMhlanga.
From February 17 (the day the We Love Cities competition started) DurbanChick using the hashtag #welovedurban tweeted up to 162 times a day.
DurbanChick also retweeted at least 20 other alleged fake accounts that have been deleted, suggesting the fake accounts were once all connected in a ghost community.
Other fake accounts still in operation are: @ThelmaDollie, @DarbyAndrianaDa, @FrannyHenderson and @SaniaByrd7. All were created on the same day at the end of 2012 and followed the “I love Durban” Twitter page.
The accounts remained mostly dormant until the #welovedurban campaign started early in February.
The city contract to Carver Media was granted through a section 36 authorisation, an emergency tender procedure that circumvents normal protocol.
At the time the city said the reason for the choice of Carver was to use the “I Love Durban” brand to leverage votes for the #welovedurban campaign.
On Thursday and again on Sunday, Carver Media was repeatedly contacted for comment, but there was no response.
Last week Praneetha Aniruth said she had been advised not to comment and that the company stood by its initial statement, denying all allegations.
At the time her husband, Avilash Aniruth, said: “We cannot be held responsible for everyone that tweets using the hashtag #welovedurban.”
He stressed they had no control over what people did in their enthusiasm and commitment to Durban.
eThekwini spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said last week that Carver Media was the only digital agency that could offer the social media capacity for the competition service as it owned the “I Love Durban” trademark.