Scores of sockpuppet accounts from India participated in an unprecedented disinformation campaign aimed at vindicating the beleaguered Gupta family. These accounts, which would later be colloquialized as the “Guptabots” consisted of hundreds of fake accounts masquerading as South Africans.
Their goal was simple: divert the focus of social media discussions away from media coverage critical of the Guptas, and to aim it at “white monopoly capital” and its poster-boy, Johann Rupert.
The fake accounts were bolstered by fake articles published on anonymous websites. These sites painted the Guptas as martyrs in the fight against WMC, with claims that the #GuptaLeaks were manufactured on instruction of the elite in Stellenbosch.
The campaign only came grinding to a halt at the end of December 2017. As if a contract had suddenly expired, the last tweets and articles on the website were posted on 31 December 2017, after which the entire WMCLeaks campaign came to an end.
While the true nature and origins of the Guptabots likely disappeared with them, clues in the GuptaLeaks provide a plausible timeline for their inception and creation.
In April 2013, shortly after the Waterkloof-landing was revealed, the Guptas paid a Chennai, India based company called “Virtual Social Media” an amount of $12 000 (R121 000 at the time) in cash for “assistance” with its online image. VSM’s brief consisted of creating several “African-sounding” names to scour the Internet and attempt to drown-out negative publicity on social platforms with their comments.
The Guptaleaks also detail the humorous near panic when the Gupta bagman accidentally paid VSM too much cash, resulting in a furious exchange of e-mails as Ashu Chawla attempted to secure the change.