Cape Town – Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments has denied any involvement in a fake news blitz targeting its critics.
"There is no truth in this whatsoever," the company said in a statement in reply to emailed questions received on Tuesday.
"Oakbay Investments has not set up – or paid any company or individual to set up – any fake Twitter accounts," it continued.
"The continued innuendo to the contrary – with zero evidence – is just another example of the agenda by some media against Oakbay."
Last week Talk Radio 702, the Sunday Times and the Huffington Post SA editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee were targeted in what appeared to be a Twitter campaign against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and media which had reported on allegations of state capture by the family.
The tweets appeared to come from established media houses and journalists, but closer inspection revealed subtle changes to their titles, for instance @Radioo702.
In one, Haffajee was linked to a tweet which read: "Ferial Haffajee: #Gordhan is clearly WMC stooge, going out of his way to clip wings of #Guptas #OakBay".
"WMC" stands for white monopoly capital – a term used to refer to white-owned mega-corporations.
Haffajee was also the victim of a photoshopped picture of her supposedly sitting on businessman Johann Rupert's lap.
Left: Fake sicko photoshop of me in lap of billionaire in fake City Press story (I don't even know millionaires)— Ferial Haffajee (@ferialhaffajee) January 21, 2017
Right: Real. Troll hunting pic.twitter.com/LM8ld9V4Kt
She said the shenanigans started after her feature article "4 days in December - the year of State Capture" was published.
The report traced the history of claims that the Gupta family may have had a hand in some of President Jacob Zuma's ministerial appointments following the release of the Public Protector's report State of Capture on the allegations.
Oakbay Investments also owns The New Age newspaper and television channel ANN7.
The accounts were marked as "parody", which gives the creators a degree of protection in terms of Twitter's take-down policies, but victims can also complain about impersonation.
South Africans are not new to parody accounts, with Oscar Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux (@Barry_Roux) and ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe (@GwedeUncle) among those whose names have been used in accounts that poke fun at current affairs.
The State of Capture report itself spawned the @StateShebeen account after a communications analysis contained in the report placed former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe's cellphone within range of the Guptas' estate in Saxonwold. Molefe was lampooned for suggesting he might have been visiting a shebeen and not necessarily the Guptas, sparking the creation of the account.
However, there may be various intellectual property remedies for those targeted by the fake news tweets, such as trademark infringement, warned Dario Milo, partner at law firm Webber Wentzel.
"There could be an action for defamation if the fake publication harms the reputation of the real account holder," he explained.
"Also, for individuals there could be a privacy invasion where they are being portrayed in a false light. These will all be fact dependent."