On Sunday night, as the Adani Group responded to investment research firm Hindenburg Research's allegations of fraud against the company as an "attack on India", microblogging site Twitter was rife with tweets supporting Asia's richest individual Gautam Adani.
These tweets, containing the hashtags #EconomyWillNeverDie and #LICZindaHai, questioned Hindenburg's motive for holding short positions against company's under the Adani Group, and called for people to have faith in Adani's businesses, their shares, and the Indian economy.
BOOM scraped the tweets containing these hashtags, and found strong evidence suggesting that the trends were fabricated through a coordinated inauthentic campaign. Metadata of the tweets containing the date and timestamp showed that most of them were published in the span of an hour, after which the trend faded away. The users sharing these tweets were also found to engage in promotion of other popular hashtags linked to brands and feature films.
Additionally, the metadata showed no evidence of automated tweets being used to push the hashtags.
Last weekend, share prices of companies under the Adani Group plummeted, including that of its flagship company Adani Enterprise, following a scathing report by Hindenburg, alleging fraud and stock price manipulation, while disclosing their short positions on Adani's companies. The report came out at the same time as Adani Enterprises follow-on public offer (FPO) of Rs. 20,000 crore, which led to a weekend of of uncertainty for the company as its shares fell significantly throughout the week.
The weekend also saw several reports and opinion pieces express concerns over the Indian economy, due the two of India's largest PSUs - State Bank of India and Life Insurance Corporation - having significant stakes in Adani Group companies.
Hashtags To The Rescue
Adani Group's response to Hindenburg came on Sunday night, before the market opened to the final three days of the FPO sale. It is around this time that the hashtag #EconomyWillNeverDie started trending.
By Monday morning, it appeared as a top trend on the microblogging platform.
We used Twitter scraping tool Twint to scrape 1627 tweets containing this hashtag. Looking at the timestamps of the tweets (as seen in the blue line graph above), we found that over 85% of the tweets (1385 tweets) with #EconomyWillNeverDie was published between 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM alone. Another 181 tweets were published between 11:00 PM - 1:00 AM, following which the number of tweets fell to less than an average of 5 tweets an hour.
Yet another hashtag #LICZindaHai, was found trending on Monday morning. Like the other trend, this one too was tweeted mostly between 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, with 93% of the tweets appearing between this time period.
We also found over 25 tweets with the hashtag #EconomyWillNeverDie made by verified accounts. A further scrutiny of these accounts revealed that they had extensively promoted brands and films using trending hashtags.
One of the users, @DigitalRahulM, pushed out a tweet in support of Adani at 11:00 PM, that contained the viral hashtag.
We found the same user promoting Shah Rukh Khan's latest release Pathaan, upcoming Telugu film Dasara, OTT series Dear Ishq and online payment app Paytm. The hashtags used in each of these tweets were part of a campaign to push their respective brand, film or series - much like the one supporting Adani.
Another verified user, @RatherNazaket, also tweeted similarly. Along with the hashtag #EconomyWillNeverDie, this user promoted phone brand Realme, a promotional video for Oppo phones with actor Ranbir Kapur, the recently released film Pathaan, and upcoming films Dasara and One Not Five Minutes.
Other verified users found to tweet in a similar manner are @TheLeapKandula, @Niteshfearless, @wahidlucknavi, @DevpalNitesh, @pareektweets and @HimanshuHirpara, among others.
The tweets by these users expressed a similar point - that foreign investments in Adani Group's companies is a sign of trust, further confirming that they are part of a coordinated campaign.
This type of inauthentic coordinated campaign using random Twitter users who usually tweet about movies, gadgets and discounts is in line with previous coordinated campaigns to defend a company or a brand.
Finally, in the last day of the follow-on share sale, Adani Enterprises sailed through with full subscription of their FPO with heavy support for non-institutional investors. While the FPO was priced at Rs 3,112-3,276 per share, the sale ended with Rs. 2,795 per share.