Twitter trolls hit back, but analytics has a way of unearthing hidden insights

By Staff Reporter Time of article published May 11, 2021

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Sihle Makhowana

FOLLOWING Independent Media’s exposé on smear campaigns aimed at tarnishing the image of Dr Iqbal Survé and his businesses, cracks and panic disguised in Twitter humour have started to show on forces behind the smear campaign.

Independent Media investigations unit on Monday published an exposé, extracted from data analysis by a team of technology and analytics experts, on how social media platforms such as Twitter were mechanised since 2019 to discredit and tarnish the reputation of Survé and his businesses.

A move that has contributed to ABSA terminating its relationship with Premier Fishing and Brands and FNB terminating its relationship with AYO Technology Solutions, threatening thousands of jobs in an economy that is engulfed with high unemployment and stagnant economic growth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Displeasure and panic could be felt through characters used by Twitter accounts implicated in the exposé. @ferialhaffajee claims that the article is contrived nonsense aimed at another account that played a key role in the smear campaign @dailymaverick.

@ferialhaffajee shows double standards in defending what she claims is reputational damage on @dailymaverick, which is exactly what she willingly allowed to happen in the case of Survé and his businesses.

In the wake of the exposé, it has become clear through screenshots of conversations and reactions of people mentioned in the report that indeed this is an ongoing smear campaign and these accounts will stop at nothing to see Survé and his business portrayed in an image that continues to compromise his reputation in the media and the business fraternity.

@goolammv who through screenshots claims that there is a propaganda machine led by Survé is seen channelling another attack on Survé and his businesses in a post that tagged Standard Bank, asking why they have not followed suit and closed accounts linked to Survé.

Modibe Modiba, a prominent Twitter user, said smear campaigns are properly structured and the victim’s name is dragged on social media. “Most of the hostile activity you see on Twitter looks clearly co-ordinated and amped up by mainstream media, especially those targeting politicians or black businesses.

"There are cases where we have seen even prominent media houses' journalists engage in what looks like 'synchronised' posts and co-ordinated narrative on social media, and syndication and recirculation of stories.

“These activities look clearly structured and sometimes involve influencers to boost a narrative they might not agree with. They all start ganging up on that individual or group simultaneously by retweeting and commenting around the same time.

“The handlers of the smear campaign against that certain individual are often given an opportunity to further perpetuate this lie on their media platforms and by the time you try to catch your breath your name is already dragged through the mud and tarnished,” said Modiba.

While the investigation had no target, the persons exposed by the system were those who prominently featured in generating a negative and targeted campaign against Survé and his businesses. Further analysis of the big data which we will reveal in future shows that there was co-ordination at many levels up to what the people wanted to say about Survé.

Instead of arguing compelling points, those who were revealed by the system rushed to undermine the quality of the report, a typical response. Data analysis and analytics have a way of unearthing hidden insights and that is what this exercise has done. | Investigations Unit – [email protected]

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