NEWS

Fake News Twitter Trolls, Ferial Haffajee Is Coming For You

After numerous instances of fake tweets against HuffPost SA's editor-at-large and other journalists, she's decided to fight back.

23/01/2017 06:14 SAST | Updated 24/01/2017 08:57 SAST

Huffington Post SA's editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee is on a mission to hunt down trolls who have been attacking her and other journalists on Twitter.

Speaking to News24 on Sunday, Haffajee said she and journalists who had written at length about state capture had been victims of trolling on the social media platform.

She said the most recent attack was linked to the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investment Company.

On January 21, Haffajee was linked to a tweet purporting to be from the Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPostZA) which said, "Ferial Haffajee: #Gordhan is clearly WMC stooge, going out of his way to clip wings of #Guptas #OakBay". This account seems to no longer exist.

The rest of the account's comprised retweets of other posts that accuse Gordhan of being a "stooge" for WMC (White Monopoly Capital) and controlling certain journalists, which include Haffajee.

Another post, on a fake City Press website, has a picture of a woman sitting on a man's lap with Haffajee and business tycoon Johann Rupert's faces photo-shopped on the bodies.

Haffajee said it had been an ongoing campaign, which started gaining traction in December after she wrote a column in the City Press titled "4 days in December – the year of State Capture".

"After that I really got a lot of them and then at some point I noticed that they began to use real media handles or designs."

So far, the media titles that have been targeted included the City Press, Sunday Times, 702 and Huffington Post SA.

"It's all coming from what's called an automated Twitterbot, so it's a very orchestrated propaganda campaign. It is broad and linked to people in the Oakbay set of companies.

"This weekend's campaign was actually hashtagged Oakbay so it wasn't too difficult to surmise where it is from," Haffajee said.

She said she would be investigating the origins of the tweets and those behind the account. So far, she had reported those she had seen to the social network.

"I reported it to Twitter. I recorded all the ones I could find and they say it has to come from the actual company. So I think those companies are going to start doing it. But I think there are so many thousands of them that it's a very difficult thing to do."

Commenting on the trend of fake news that appeared to be on the rise, Haffajee said: "Technology has made it really simple to create fake sites, and they're not parodies... These are actual fake news sites meant to deceive the public.

"All you need is a free design tool on a computer and not even very great skills, if you look at some of the work. So technology has made it cheap to do. I think we're just in an era of fake news now, where people either want to sow confusion and propaganda or they have a specific purpose."

She urged all journalists and media houses to start analysing the accounts.

"I think it's worth engaging Twitter in a more coherent, bigger form. Assess and show them that this is a bigger problem and see if we can get them to [assist]," she said.

News24