I Love Durban campaign followers ‘not fake’

2014-03-19 00:00

THE online spat surrounding the I Love Durban campaign being run on behalf of the city by an Umhlanga-based digital media firm has set emotions flying on the very space it occupies.

Carver Media, who runs the I Love Durban Facebook page and Twitter feed @ILuvDBN, won a controversial R495 000 tender in February. The tender was awarded on an urgent basis and therefore circumvented the tender process. The city maintained Carver was the only company capable of running the campaign, which has been dismissed by several Durban digital media practitioners. Carver Media was mandated to promote the city in the We Love Cities Campaign — an initiative by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Carver Media cancelled an event in Durban last night, which was to form part of its campaign.

Carver Media co-owner Praneetha Aniruth said they deny all the allegations that they manufactured fake followers in order to boost their numbers. She would not comment any further.

Durban is one of 33 cities globally that are finalists in the competition. The winner is selected based on the online interactions with residents.

The Sunday Tribune initially ran a story on the controversial tender award, setting Twitter alight with support and anger towards the campaign. By yesterday, respected Durban tech blogger Marc Forrest accused Carver Media of manufacturing fake Twitter followers — an accusation the company denied.

City manager Sbu Sithole said yesterday the spat was only being used to “sell papers”.

“There is no substance in the media reports,” said Sithole.

Yesterday, the I Love Durban Facebook page posted the message: “Dear fans there have been recent allegations that you the fans of I Love Durban are ‘fake’. Whether you live in Durban, spend your holiday here or share a love for Durban, please like and comment below and show how real we are.”

The post was followed by nearly 5 200 Likes and garnered nearly 1 000 comments.

But Forrest, who confirmed to The Witness that he had been approached by sources outlining a litany of irregularities at the media company tweeted: “Interesting to hear Carver Media bought BOXES of MTN sim cards to verify fake accts for the @ILuvDBN #welovedurban campaigns. Plot thickens(sic)” and then “The more I dig, the dirtier & darker it gets. Ughhh. So sad!”

According to online tool Twitter Counter, since December 19 @ILuv­DBN followers increased from 6 522 to its current 11 333. There was a slight dip over the last 48 hours from 11 377. Forrest has put this to the company removing the alleged fake accounts he exposed on Monday on his blog. There has also been a significant increase in tweets since Sunday by Carver Media. When they began the campaign their daily tweets numbered approximately 37. By yesterday at 4.30 pm they reached an all-time high of 277 tweets. On Sunday and Monday, it stood at just under 160.

City councillor Rick Crouch, who is involved in the digital media space, said on his analysis of the @ILuvDBN using a utility to detect fake followers found that of the nearly 11 400 followers, 2 052 were fake, 4 560 were inactive and only 4 788 were classified by the utility as good.

“I sit on the portfolio committee for finance and procurement and I will raise the issue on how, when there are more than a dozen agencies who could have run this campaign, the city selected Carver Media. I am also angered that our committee was never informed of the expenditure. We were only told that it had been awarded last week Tuesday. This is a blatant misuse of public funds,” said Crouch.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

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