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Business News/ Auto News / In defence of Ola Electric, a network of dubious social media accounts

In defence of Ola Electric, a network of dubious social media accounts

Several of the social media accounts also work in a coordinated manner to trend other topics or promote other brands as well, indicating they are likely either accounts created by digital media agencies or freelance networks that work for multiple agencies

A file photo of an Ola electric scooter at an EV charging station in New Delhi.  (Photo: Reuters)Premium
A file photo of an Ola electric scooter at an EV charging station in New Delhi.  (Photo: Reuters)

NEW DELHI:A network of seemingly coordinated Twitter handles appears to be working to drown out criticism of Ola Electric on social media and build a positive narrative for the brand online, a Mint investigation has found. Several of them also work in a coordinated manner to trend other topics or promote other brands as well, indicating they are likely either accounts created by digital media agencies or freelance networks that work for multiple agencies.

Mint documented more than 50 such handles, which attacked Balwant Singh, a government employee in Guwahati. Singh had tweeted about the grievous injuries suffered by his son, Reetam, a lawyer at the Gauhati high court, in an accident on 26 March involving Ola S1 Pro, the flagship product from the electric two-wheeler maker. Singh had complained that the scooter accelerated when it was supposed to brake, sending his son flying.

The tweet sparked a conversation about the safety of Ola Electric scooters, with others sharing their own unpleasant experiences. As Singh’s tweet gained attention and made its way into news media, the network of accounts got to work.

“Just letting you know since you don’t know, this is what airborne crashing looks like not 1 scratch on a panel", user @princi_qween tweeted, using a road accident image.

“Regen(enerative braking) exists so that the battery efficiency is better. How has it caused an accident? Seems like something that has been done to garner attention & money. If he is hurt that bad you should take care of him rather than demanding things on Twitter", another tweet by @ImAnkitss read.

Two handles claimed that Singh’s Twitter account turned active after eight years to extort money from Ola. At least six others tweeted identical images of a gory road accident, claiming if Reetam’s account was indeed true, the damage would have been worse.

Accusations of extortion, foul play by rival brands, spinning “fantasy" stories and blaming the victim for over-speeding are the common threads in many of these tweets. An occasional account displaying identical characteristics also claims to be a customer, offering a positive view of the company.

Some of them are found tweeting identical hashtags on various topics, indicating their association with multiple agencies mandated to create a positive narrative by brands. While there is a range in terms of how active these accounts have been on Twitter, most came up in or after 2021, and some as recently as March or April this year. In many instances, different accounts post an identical tweet, or a slight variation of the same tweet, using similar pictures and addressing a similar theme.

Reetam Singh, who is recovering from his injuries, accused Ola Electric of using troll accounts.

“Many other Ola customers left comments on my father’s tweet about my accident that they were facing similar issues as we had—and troll accounts went after them too. When I started seeing a pattern in what was being said to troll us, I was stunned to find out the company was employing either bot handles or some social media agency to discredit my story. I realized these were not authentic customers or handles, and they were amplifying tweets from a common marketing agency. There were 50-60 handles like that", Singh said over the phone.

To be sure, there is no direct evidence as to whether Ola Electric was aware of or responsible for this activity. The company did not respond to a request for its version of events. On 22 April, however, it had blamed overspeeding for the accident, citing the scooter’s ride data, and claimed the vehicle was faultless.

Mint also found out that about 100 Twitter accounts, including some of the 50 accounts mentioned above, work to like, retweet, and applaud tweets positive about Ola Electric’s self-driving experiment, founder Bhavish Aggarwal’s disruptive vision for Make in India, about the world’s largest two-wheeler factory it has built and its all-women workforce.

Other handles that these accounts actively retweeted recently include Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd (HPCL), Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL), Disney+ Hotstar, RealMe, Naveen Jindal, as well as political accounts of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Ajay Bhatt, Manoj Yadav, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi Party, as well as Twitter trends like #Corbevax and #Singham, all of which indicate links between the accounts through messaging groups, or coordination by the same social media or digital marketing agency.

“My whole concern is, instead of employing these tactics, they could have spent more time and resources on engineering their product better. They’re trying to ostracize me for putting my story out," Reetam added.

Some others who have criticized Ola Electric on Twitter also said they were getting trolled. “I got spammed on my handle after I posted some negative feedback about the product", Omkar, a Twitter user complained.

On a 23 April visit to Ola Electric’s Futurefactory near Bengaluru that makes its scooters, CEO Aggarwal told this reporter that negative reviews about its scooter were mostly “noise", and that the company’s detractors were “paying crores to bring the brand down" when asked to respond to customers complaining about overheating, abrupt drop in battery performance and a fault that led some scooters to enter reverse mode.

“Companies have become very protective about their online reputation. And in the process of safeguarding it, they go far and beyond the normal lay of the land. Earlier, social media trolling was just the domain of the political class; but now, brands have started learning from it, too, and are creating echo chambers online," a leading social media strategist said, asking not to be named to avoid impact on their business.

“Online reputation management companies have a large network of people who have multiple social media handles, a certain number of followers and are just well-versed with the system. Often, many brands hire agencies who go to the same set of people," he added.

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Alisha Sachdev
Alisha Sachdev reports on the auto and mobility sector, with a special focus on emerging clean mobility technologies.
Catch all the Auto News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.
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Published: 04 May 2022, 12:13 AM IST
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