Is the Adani Group Using Paid Social Media Trolls to Malign EPW’s Former Editor?

A number of Twitter handles that were active in defending the industrialist when his Australia project came under fire have now trained their guns on Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.


On July 18, senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta resigned as Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) editor after the directors of the Sameeksha Trust, which runs the storied journal, ordered him to take down an article on the Adani group.

Since then many academicians, journalists and readers have expressed support for Thakurta and questioned the trust’s decision to remove the article. Faced with backlash, the trustees claimed that the former editor had committed “a grave impropriety amounting to a breach of trust” in responding to a legal letter from the Adani group on their behalf without informing them or seeking their assent.

On July 28, a letter written to the trustees by the EPW staff demanding an explanation for why the trust decided to retract the article was leaked on the internet. The letter, which was supposed to be confidential, was uploaded and quickly deleted from Scribd but a version published by The Quint is now being circulated on social media. Many of the handles pushing the link are clearly social marketers tasked with maligning Guha Thakurta’s image, presumably on behalf of a client.

When not bashing Guha Thakurta, the above mentioned accounts are busy promoting #InfinixNOTE4#YehHaiIndia, ICICI #Safebanking and #JabHarrySejalMetUC.

Interestingly, many of the accounts tweeting against Guha Thakurta were also used in April this year to tweet pro-Adani tweets when his mining company was seeking a $900 million loan from Australian taxpayers for a controversial project.

Left: Tweets by @abhijitkarmakar_i against the former EPW editor; Right: Tweets supporting Adani’s Australia coal mines project

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

Left: Tweets against former EPW editor by @vishpeele; Right: Tweets supporting Adani’s Australia coal mines project

The accounts used three hashtags — #Queensland, #Adani and #Carmichael — suggesting that the mine would be great for Queensland jobs. A similar pattern can be seen with tweets about Paranjoy.

Left: Tweets by @nonygarg against former EPW editor; Right: Tweets supporting Adani’s Australia coal mines project

A quick look at their tweeting pattern reveal some interesting characteristics – they regularly participate in contests that require a lot of tweeting, most of these handles follow each other, unlike ‘bots’ they have thousands of followers and most of them describe themselves as ‘social media enthusiasts’.

Left: Tweets by @sm_influencer against former EPW editor; Right: Tweets supporting Adani’s Australia coal mines project

In the same month, similar accounts were used to disperse concerns regarding Adani group’s debt.

A few days earlier, they were busy circulating a video of socialite Suhel Seth advocating for the Adani Group.

Similar handles came to Adani’s rescue when he was questioned about his debt after he tweeted about the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

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.

Screenshot courtesy: FactorDaily

The use of paid social media trolls to spread positive messages about demonetisation was extensively documented by FactorDaily.

News channels too have adopted similar practices in the past to make hashtags trend.

Note: The Wire had republished the two articles on Adani that his lawyers have objected to. In deference to Adani’s demand that the second of these be removed, EPW took it down. You can read both articles here:

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Its easy. Just post a few comments singing praises of Modi/Adani/BJP/Army/Hindutva and THEY will come to YOU. Gushy admiration for Yogi Adityanath shall gain you bonus points.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Paranjoy has replied to the accusations levelled against him in a ‘confidential’ lettert that was leaked (deliberately ?). Read it in, 03 Aur, 2017.

    • surya

      Thanks Mr.Amitabha. Its nice to see him respond to the allegations. Not that they have got anything to do with this Adani issue, but still good to respond to clear out the allegations atleast for now.

  • Amitabha Basu

    These social media trolls are a real menace these days, when even well-meaning people fall easy prey to fake propaganda and fake news. And, of course, the BJP IT cell, housed in the Ashoka Road office, is the headquarters from where it often begins…. I urge all to read “I am a Troll” by Priyanka Chaturvedi, to see how this pernicious social disease is being spread and spreading ….