Confuse and Divide: tracking a network that twists the truth


Confuse and Divide: tracking a network that twists the truth

Research by the CABC has uncovered an organised network of social media accounts posing as promoters of Radical Economic Transformation policy to peddle misinformation and social division.

The network distributes high volumes of tweets using the cover of RET policy – but content actually aims to further personal or factional interests.

Our full report, Online RET Network Analysis on the network can be viewed at the CABC website here

Here are some of the key findings of the social media research:

Anatomy of the Network:

  • At least 50 inauthentic accounts that were created over 11 years came alive in March 2021
  • These accounts share little or no personal content about their users
  • Tweets include reference to the RET narrative
  • Content of tweets is anti-Cyril Ramaphosa and pro-Jacob Zuma
  • Exceptionally high volumes of tweets are posted daily, with some individual accounts posting up to 120 posts a day – about once every five minutes – 24 hours, seven days a week.
  • Accounts displayed many of the 12 signs of inauthentic behaviour outlined in this @DFRLabs report

Analysis of the activity in the network reveals the six telltale signs of narrative manipulation:

1. Exploit cracks

Poverty, crime, corruption and service delivery failure are used to justify online attacks against President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters.

2. Create a big lie

The network attacks Judge Zondo openly, reducing the testimony before the Zondo Commission to hearsay – ignoring the fact that it was former President who established the Zondo Commission into State Capture.

3. Wrap the lie around a kernel of truth

The network uses media articles to support misinformed claims, accuses the media of maintaining “White Monopoly Capital”, and makes false allegations about actual events.

4. Find useful messengers

To legitimise false claims, the network targets a useful but ill-informed person to drive their narrative through retweets to a different list of followers.

5. Deny everything

The “RET” network denies being a faction, despite constant attacks on the president of their own political party.

6. Play the long game

The network has invested resources on activities to keep the accounts active and influence as many users as possible.

How it started: the politics of hijacked policy

The term “Radical Economic Transformation” became popular in 2014, after it was used in the Medium-Term Strategic Framework and adopted by government to build a more equal society through inclusive growth. In his State of the Nation Address that year President Zuma promised the economy would be transformed through black economic empowerment.

As allegations into state capture emerged during Zuma’s tenure, RET became viewed as a policy that only benefitted some politicians, their friends and families.

Now the term “RET” is being used to create divisions between supporters of Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *