Rahul Gandhi's popularity on Twitter faked? Here's the Russian bot angle

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. (Photo: @OfficeOfRG Twitter handle)
Union minister Smriti Irani on Saturday targeted Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi after a media report claimed that the recent uptick in his social media traction may well be due to bots. Aiming a barb at Gandhi, she said, "perhaps Rahul is planning to sweep polls in Russia, Indonesia and Kazakhstan".

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, news agency ANI's report claims that Twitter handles retweeting the Congress vice president's tweets could be 'automated bots'.

Perhaps @OfficeOfRG planning to sweep polls in Russia, Indonesia & Kazakhstan ?? #RahulWaveInKazakh https://t.co/xVanl2mKGh https://t.co/Yhl1oAGqOg

— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) October 21, 2017

A Twitterbot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API (Application Programming Interface). The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts.

However, Congress rejected the allegation as "factually wrong".

Story is factually wrong. Can understand your eagerness to please the I&B ministry and the Bots Janata Party. https://t.co/qQfqi6jMfc

— Divya Spandana/Ramya (@divyaspandana) October 21, 2017

Here's what the ANI report said 

On October 15th, 'OfficeofRG' retweeted US President Donald Trump's post 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 touched 30,000 at the time of filing this report.

A close analysis of this tweet showed that these alleged 'bots' with 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's satire-laced tweets 'resonating with people'

Irani's junior in the ministry, Rajyavardhan Rathore, compared the act to doping in sports.

"In sports, this would come under 'Doping'... hey wait!?? Does 'dope' remind you of someone," he said in a tweet.

Divya Spandana, who heads the Social Media and Digital Communications wing of the Congress, hit back at Irani and termed the news story as "factually wrong".

"Why do we need them when we have you?" she said in response to Irani's tweet.

While ANI's claims have not yet been verified by Business Standard, the Congress party on Friday said that his tweets laced with satire are resonating with the people of the country.

The party also said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders use bad language against Rahul Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders, but the party never uses defamatory words on the social networking site.

As on Friday, Gandhi has 3.81 million followers and 3,352 tweets.

"Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has been tweeting for some time now. Twitter is a medium where you raise your voice," said Congress spokesperson R.P.N. Singh.

"Satire is also a good form of reaching out to the people. It makes it more interesting. I think the Office of the (Congress) Vice President has used it to good effect and it is something which is resonating with the people of this country because he has been raising the very issues which touch the people of this country.

"The people are completely aware that this is what the problem with this country is and the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi)'s false promises... people have lost patience. And that is why there is so much resonance," he added.

Singh said on Twitter, Congress leaders have always used language which is above board and "we never hit below the belt or used words which are defamatory. The bad language that we see are continuously used by BJP leaders against Rahul Gandhi or our senior leaders".

"We never cross the line and that is the Congress Vice President is doing," he added.