Digital

Adani’s Controversial Australian Coal Mine Finds ‘Bhakts’ on Twitter

Crucial events over the last month, which will decide the fate of the beleaguered $16-billion mining project, have sparked a surprising amount of pro-Adani tweets.

Billionaire Gautam Adani speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Ahmedabad April 2, 2014. Credit: Amit Dave/Reuters/Files

Billionaire Gautam Adani speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Ahmedabad April 2, 2014. Credit: Amit Dave/Reuters/Files

New Delhi: The battlefield over the Adani Group’s controversial $16.5-billion coal mine in Queensland, Australia has shifted from the courts and on-ground protest sites to social media.

The mining and energy project, which will open a new coal province in the Australian state of Queensland to feed Indian demand, has seen waves of protests from environmental groups concerned about the health of the country’s Great Barrier Reef.

After receiving the Australian government’s approval in 2014, over the last three years, the company has faced and won several court challenges. Last week the Adani group got a shot in the arm when Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was in India on a visit, promised to remove what is potentially the last legal challenge for Indian billionaire Gautam Adani.

As Buzzfeed News noted, these latest updates have sparked an army of Indian twitter accounts that appear to be pushing out pro-mining, pro-Adani tweets.  On April 12, Adani tweeted out a photo of him shaking Turnbull’s hand, prompting a wave of tweets that heavily favoured the company’s mining project.

Adani1

The tweets themselves had multiple common characteristics. They used similar hashtags: #Queensland, #Adani and #Carmichael (the location of the coal mine). They also centred around similar themes. The screenshot above for instance drives home the point that the Adani coal mine is a catalyst for Indian-Australian relations.

“The #Adani #Carmichael coal mine is a positive step in India-Australia bonding. These ties to benefit both the countries at large,” tweeted out a user called “Sweetannu1” – who has over 20,000 followers on Twitter and over 90,000 tweets.

Other common themes that come out from the pro-Adani, pro-coal mine tweets include how it will “create thousands of jobs” and how it will “contribute to reducing carbon emissions”. For the most part, a large number of these tweets have similar text and wording.

Is this a paid Twitter campaign? The practice of hiring social media influencers to counter bad publicity has been seen a number of times over the last year in the Indian context. For instance, in the aftermath of the Modi government’s demonetisation move, a number of publications have documented how social media influencers were paid to spread positive messages about demonetisation.

What happens in a paid Twitter campaign? Usually public relations or marketing companies reach out to “influencers”, or users who typically have more than 10,000 followers on Twitter, and give them an initial brief, a handful of tweets and a number of appropriate hash-tags.

There are several common factors that usually allow one to identify whether there are social media influencers at work. Firstly, the tweeters usually never have less than 5,000 followers. Common Twitter bios inevitably include the word ‘#Influencer’ – a quick perusal of the pro-Adani tweets show that most users do indeed identify themselves as “social media marketing” or “influencers” or “brand management” in their Twitter profiles.

Similarly-worded messages are another example of an influencer-led Twitter marketing campaign. For instance, earlier this month, there were two sets of a large number of tweets that talked about how the Adani group never had problem with debt repayments, with similarly-worded text. However, this isn’t solid proof or evidence in either way, as many Twitter campaigns use similarly worded text and hashtags to quickly spread their message.