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How a mining company is using fake Twitter accounts to defend itself

What would any reputable company do in the face of constant distrust from banks, media outlets and environmental activists? Knock together some fake Twitter accounts to attack people, of course.

Adani own an exhaustingly contentious coal mine in Carmichael, Queensland, Australia. It helps to have a bit of background. Here’s the gist:

  • It would dig up 10 million tonnes of coal each year
  • It poses disastrous risks to the Great Barrier Reef (which is looking decidedly less great each year), local water supplies and the ever-warming climate
  • People are pretty anxious about climate change
  • The Australian federal government and the Queensland state government have, largely, been pretty keen on the mine (and have a parasitic relationship with mining companies in general)
  • This has been going on for over a decade because time alone cannot defeat stupidity and the just may never rest

This has led to what we in Australia call a shitfight.

(Vice published a great doco about the mine. Well worth a watch.)

To Twitter we go

Adani, as part of their ongoing effort to defend their business interests (which are so dubious that banks refused to finance the Carmichael mine), have resorted to making fake Twitter accounts to defend the company.

Cam Wilson, writing for Crikey, reported on Adani using 25+ Twitter accounts acting in an “‘astroturfing’ operation — an attempt to fake grassroots support on social media for a cause.”

According to Wilson’s report, the seemingly fake accounts have been posting “specific, pointed attacks at individuals and media outlets that have criticised Adani, and amplified positive news about it or its founder, Gautam Adani.”

The accounts want to look real, of course. Wilson describes how they go about it:

One example is @pat_mic078. The account, created in March 2022, uses a smiling image of US Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch as its profile picture. In between retweets of Elizabeth, Elon Musk and tweets that appear to copy the text and image of Barack Obama’s tweets (like one congratulating his daughter on her birthday), @pat_mic078 has also tweeted at anti-Adani group Stop Adani, Crikey founder Stephen Mayne, the Bob Brown Foundation and Pennings.

Wilson goes on to explain how experts figure out that accounts like ol’ @pat_mic078 could be part of a coordinated astroturfing effort. Give it a read.

A very confident mining company

These are the kinds of fake accounts that can slip between the cracks when you’re looking for bots and ne’er-do-wells with an agenda. On the surface, they look legit; they look like any other myopic culture warrior on the internet.

You only notice things look sus when digging into how they post about a specific topic at specific times. I’m sure social platforms could detect this kind of maleficence if they had the time, resources and inclination but I’m not sure they have any of the three.

So we’re left a mining company so insecure about its position – both economically and politically – that it’s resorting to fake Twitter accounts to dogpile rival organisations and, in some cases, individuals.

Real tough stuff.

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