Sharad Sharma’s dubious denial

Evidence for why the denial should not be believed

Yesterday I named iSPIRT’s Sharad Sharma as an anonymous pro-Aadhaar troll on Twitter. You can read about it here:

Predictably, both Sharad and iSPIRT have denied their hand in this. ThiyagaRajan Maruthavanan issued the following statement on his personal blog on behalf of iSPIRT, denying any official involvement by iSPIRT. He confirms the slide deck is real but disputes that any trolling operation was discussed. He also mentions Sharad’s tweets, but does not claim to speak on behalf of Sharad.

It is understandable that Rajan issued an official statement on his personal blog because on a previous occasion another iSPIRT employee/volunteer, Priyashmita Guha, clarified that iSPIRT allows individuals to speak on behalf of the organisation without having to specify whether it is an individual or organisational position until they are asked.

This fluid relationship iSPIRT embraces — on whether someone is a volunteer or officially involved, and speaking on behalf of themselves or the organisation — is a convenient escape route. Do not be fooled by it. iSPIRT must conduct an official investigation into the actions of Sharad Sharma, a member of its governing council, and of the various other individuals in cahoots with him.

The trolls

iSPIRT’s Sudham project lists several volunteers. Multiple troll accounts were registered within a day of each other. The ones of interest to us are @Confident_India, @criticrahul, @draveedian and @indiaforward2.

While @Confident_India being registered with Sharad Sharma’s phone number is established beyond doubt, with several others confirming it since my original release, it is entirely possible that the multiple individuals behind these accounts have swapped accounts one or more times since they were registered.

Sharad’s dubious denial

Sharad issued the following denial first:

Notice the use of present tense. He could have just logged out and made this claim and it would be true. I asked Sharad about past involvement with that account. He hasn’t replied. Just to be sure, I asked again in a private conversation and got an evasive non-answer.

Sharad then made the following claim about not knowing why his number was associated with that account:

However, I had checked Sharad’s primary Twitter account (@sharads) before originally publishing. It had a linked email address but no phone number. If his phone number was indeed linked to another account, it was not the one he made this excuse from.

Could it be faked?

This leaves us with just two possibilities for how Sharad’s phone number came to be associated with the troll’s account. One, the troll may have added it without confirming ownership of the number. However, Twitter’s documentation is clear: you can only add a number after verifying it. Rohin Dharmakumar conducted a test as well:

Two, Sharad may have lost control of his phone, and a troll managed to extract an SMS from his phone to register the account without Sharad being aware for two weeks. This conspiracy theory has no footing when Sharad and the troll regularly said the same things and joined conversations involving the other party. There is only one inescapable conclusion here: Sharad is the troll.

Or was. Because he could have logged out and then issued the denial about currently not tweeting from that account. An alert watcher noticed this strange tweet from another of the troll accounts and captured a screenshot before it was deleted.

First tweet (now deleted): https://twitter.com/Indiaforward2/status/864794515835584512
Second tweet (also deleted): https://twitter.com/Indiaforward2/status/864794622677200896

Followed half an hour later by a denial from the correct account. One guesses the denial was hurriedly tweeted and followed by a break to regain composure. (The time in the screenshot is in US/Pacific time, 11:30 hours behind India; Twitter’s default when you’re logged out.)

Do the right thing, iSPIRT!