Earlier this month, Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Indian National Congress and the scion to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty decided to hire ad-agency Dentsu to run a five hundred crore (approximately $85m) digital marketing campaign to help bolster his image among the public.
That’s a pretty sum, and is probably bigger than online marketing budgets of some of the largest internet brands in the country. While we at least know how much the Congress is throwing at digital and social, we have no idea how much BJP has been spending with PR management firm APCO.
It’s an open secret in India that these political parties try to spam the web with positive representations to try and sway voters. I decided to try to do some digging to see how much spam these companies were actually creating on the web to further their prospects.
The usual suspects — spam comments on news articles
Speculation has been rife that most PR firms engaged in promoting Indian political parties have armies of people writing comments on news articles that shed positive light on their client(s) and negative light on their competitors.
I picked up a random article in an Indian newspaper; almost every comment seemed like it had been paid for.
Looking at the Disqus profiles of each of these commenters:
Commenter #1 (Rajat Shukla) has written six comments in the past six hours, all of them heaping praise on the Indian National Congress and it’s leader Rahul Gandhi
Commenter #2 (Rohit Verma) has twelve comments in the past two hours, again all heaping praise on the Congress
Commenter #3 (Aditi Kapoor) has nine comments in the past six hours
Commenter #4 (Ranjan) has 72 comments in the past 10 days, all almost identical propaganda
Commenter #5 (Gautam) has 35 comments
Just looking at 5 commenters, it’s easy to deduce that all of them have been auto-created and auto-posted, or worse, an army of underpaid spammers have been at it.
One article, with five comments, reveals a trail of over 134 spam comments across the Disqus network (which powers most Indian news sites’ comments)
Though this is a small sample size, it’s safe to assume that these so-called marketing firms are churning out thousands of pieces of spam every day, if not hour.
I don’t think the Indian National Congress is the only culprit when it comes to spamming the web, the opposition BJP has been at this for months, and the incumbent INC is fairly new to this game (which probably explains their inability to hide the fact that all of these comments are fake)
It just takes Scrapebox and a few hours to seed thousands of comments across the web
Anyone with access to a computer can use comment spam software to set up campaigns similar to the ones enumerated above, and I really hope a very small proportion of the social media budgets of these political parties is being spent on creating this spam.
I don’t even want to get into other kinds of spam that is being created in different channels, but if what I discovered is an indication, by the time the Indian elections are done, firms promoting Indian political parties would have created more spam than the Spamhaus Top 10 put together.