WMCLeaks runs dry

2018-02-09 16:23
@WMCLeaks_ Twitter account.

@WMCLeaks_ Twitter account.

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Cape Town – The anonymous Gupta-linked disinformation website www.wmcleaks.com is down, following weeks of neglect, in what appears to be a wide-scale abandonment of the "Guptabot" project. 

The website was linked to former Gupta-employee Saurabh Aggarwal, using metadata extracted from documents found on the site. It is now unreachable following several weeks of neglect.

The website was previously frequently updated with "exposés", based on dubious facts and anonymous sources. It was last updated with new content on December 22, 2017.

The last piece, entitled "Truths About Volkskapitalisme That WMC Tycoon Johann Rupert Will Never" (sic) is still visible on a cached copy of the Wayback Machine Archives, dated January 19, 2018.

The taking down of the website coincides with the silence of several sockpuppet Twitter accounts. These accounts (colloquially referred to as Guptabots) have also stopped tweeting as of December 29 or 30, 2017. The accounts shared remarkably predictable tweeting patterns in the days prior to their silence.

The website www.wmcleaks.com has been down for more than a week.

This includes the @WMCLeaks_ account, an account created after the original @WMCLeaks Twitter account was suspended by Twitter.

The @WMCLeaks_ Twitter account as at 8 February 2018.

The @Wmcleaks_ Twitter account reached a peak of 92 tweets on December 16, 2017 – the day of the ANC elective conference. Whereas the Guptabots tweeted overwhelmingly in support of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, hailing her as the champion of radical economic transformation and lauding her achievements, they were highly critical of Cyril Ramaphosa, calling him captured by white monopoly capital and a womaniser.

Its tweets dwindled after Ramaphosa's victory, with the last batch of tweets posted on December 31, 2017. The Guptabot accounts and WMCLeaks website has since been silent, and brings to a close a particularly surreal chapter in South African online discourse.

Twitter activity by the Guptabots ceased at the end  of December 2017.

While the www.wmcleaks.com website may have been particularly effective in distributing its pro-Gupta and anti-WMC message, it was not the first of such sites aimed to deflect attention away from the negative press surrounding the Guptas. 

Taking Two Steps Back…The Gupta Leaks show that, between April 2013 and September 2013, the Guptas paid a company called Virtual Social Media to assist with managing their online reputation. Their brief consisted of creating several profiles with "African names" to comment and drown out negative publicity online. They were paid US$12 000 in cash for this service.

Virtual Social Media used what they thought were African-sounding names as part of their attempt to convince readers that their comments were real. This is reminiscent of a period in July 2017, when scores of Twitter accounts with dubious names joined the Guptabot network. Names such as Bongi Vorster and Francois Dlamini were regularly seen retweeting pro-Gupta messages and photoshopped images of detractors of the Guptas. It would however be an easy mistake for a foreigner presented with a list of South African names and surnames to make.

…And One Step Forward

The Guptas' own foray into the manipulation of social media reach back to a website and Twitter account first mentioned by the Mail & Guardian on March 18, 2016. The Twitter account "Connor Mead" published a string of tweets on 8 and 9 February 2016, attempting to "set the record straight" regarding the barrage of negative publicity the Guptas faced at the time. The account also shared several links to its website. Although the site has since been taken down, archived copies are still available.

The Gupta Leaks show that Mead's tweets, and the content of his website echoed a presentation distributed internally by then Sahara staff member, Aslam Kamal, mere days earlier on January 27, 2016. According to his Twitter profile, Kamal is employed as creative director at The New Age.

Senior Oakbay staff, including Atul Gupta and Kamal himself, liked and retweeted the tweets by Mead in apparent disregard as to how such sensitive internal information could be accessed by an individual claiming to be an "independent outsider". Over the following weeks, various Gupta-linked individuals would like, retweet and comment on Mead's tweets, including Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa, Sandeep Doubey and Jacques Roux. 

The Google Plus account for Mead also shared the links to his website, which was subsequently propagated by the Google Plus accounts of Yusha Duarte, son of ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and Oakbay Resources. 

READ: Van Rooyen's ministry springs to defence of Duarte's son-in-law Whitley

The Gupta Leaks show that the final version of Kamal’s presentation was submitted by Bell Pottinger to the Guptas on February 22, 2017. A week later, Bell Pottinger cautioned the Guptas to avoid creating perceptions of a connection between the Connor Mead and Atul Gupta Twitter accounts.

"Engagement with the 'Inconvenient Truth' accounts runs the risk of creating perceptions of connection between the accounts, which could be damaging for the Atul Gupta account in future. It is imperative therefore that it no longer engages with any accounts that are sharing the Connor Mead 'Inconvenient Truth' articles or tweets."

This is particularly curious, considering that at the time Bell Pottinger was being paid to manage the Guptas' reputational matters, and seemed to be unaware of the Connor Mead account and its intentions.

The same information was eventually used by the Guptas in a two page advert in The New Age on 18 March 2016.

Similarities between the Gupta-paid advert (18 March 2016) and the Conor Mead website (23 february 2016).

Glaring similarities exist between the Connor Mead site and the Gupta-paid advert, including the use of headings, the wording used and the structure of both documents. The striking similarities between the Connor Mead website and the Oakbay advert a month later suggest that the person masquerading as Mead was part of the Gupta inner circle. There was also no outcry from any of the Guptas about the apparent leak of internal communications.

The Connor Mead Twitter account and website appear to be the prototype for what would eventually become the Guptabot network and WMCLeaks website.

Attempts to get Kamal's response, using email and social media, have been unsuccessful.

Read more on:    gupta  |  media

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