Fragile former VP Joe Biden purchased millions of fake Indian followers to beef up his social media presence amid the election, Your Content has learned.
Within two weeks of Biden selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate on August 12, his Twitter following jumped by 738,595 new followers—a 9.1 percent leap. The number hit 11 million by the third week of October.
A close examination has revealed unusual patterns. A large number of Twitter accounts that followed Biden’s appear to have been created exclusively for that purpose. And a large number of the users are located in small towns in rural India—in places where English-speakers are rare, and from handles run by people who don’t speak English as their first language, nor appear to be genuinely invested in American politics.
A Zenger News investigation reveals that Biden’s increasing social media footprint in India came from the country’s infamous troll farms boosting his candidacy.
Kamala Harris’s ethic heritage is in part rooted in India, but her share of Indian and apparently Indian followers is far lower, about 0.12 percent.
Started mostly to serve the 2014 Narendra Modi campaign, India’s troll farm business is now one of the most decentralized and robust in the world. They offer nearly anything to paying customers, according to Patel: fake news, Photoshopped images, support and “hate” campaigns, and even incitements of mob violence.
“I came to this because of my ideology,” said Patel, who’s a member of the youth wing of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, “but then this became my profession. My wife got herself trained in Photoshop and now we offer not only these [trolling and propaganda] services, but also content creation” that includes making memes.
Yajpal Yadav, based in the eastern India town of Patna, has a similar story.
The high-school dropout invested in 5 PCs and a broadband connection in 2016.
“Each one of us controls two to three hundred profiles across different platforms,” Yajpal said in Hindi, his only language. “We get daily targets from agencies in Delhi and Mumbai, and we simply engage with the target as we’re told.”
“Political parties are our main clients, but even brands and celebrities who need promotion come our way,” Yajpal said. “This is a business like any other.
“We don’t pick and choose. Joe Biden the person is irrelevant to us. We got a target in August to follow him and engage with his tweets, and we did. The agencies in Delhi who we work with don’t tell us any details, and we don’t ask,” he said.
Yajpal described a pyramid-shaped campaign structure akin to multi-level marketing, but without the mid-level payoffs. “There are so many levels [of subcontractors] in this, nobody can really trace anything back. We don’t even get paid through banks. We settle in cash once a month” via Hawala, a popular international money transfer system that uses bookkeepers outside official banking networks.
He declined to share specific financial details: “I won’t tell you how much we make, but what I will tell you is this setup is feeding all our families. And I don’t have to ever worry about a roof on my head or about paying my children’s’ school fees.”