Democratic Alliance (DA) federal chairperson Helen Zille has made several claims about what she believes is “orchestrated” and “manufactured outrage” following the Twitter storm that resulted from her sharing a cartoon by Jeremy ‘Jerm’ Nell.
The Citizen interviewed her in a bid to clarify some of these claims.
Zille has said on Onkgopotse ‘JJ’ Tabane’s show on Newzroom Afrika that she paid R50,000 rand to analyse the reaction to her controversial colonialism tweets and determined that this reaction was driven by an orchestrated campaign through bots and fake accounts.
She clarified that she was not saying there were no real accounts involved.
“There were, obviously, real accounts involved – it was very interesting to learn who, and to join the dots – but the volume and the hysteria was driven by an interconnected bot army,” she said.
The Citizen asked if she planned to make the information public.
“I have all the diagrams and intend to use them in my next book. It is interesting and unnerving to see what influence the bot-army and lynch mob could exert over the mainstream media and political parties – and through that on public perception.”
Recently Zille suggested that she believed the backlash to her sharing of Jerm’s cartoon may have been orchestrated by the EFF.
“A colleague told me that the EFF runs a botnet of around 11,000 fake accounts. If that is true, they would rival Bell Pottinger and it would explain all the orchestrated outrage based on deliberately misinterpreted tweets. Over and out,” she tweeted.
The Citizen asked which colleague she was referring to and whether she has any way of verifying this information.
“A colleague in the DA, who was closely involved in unravelling these matters and was watching bot activity closely, in the early days when accurate audits were unavailable, told me this. This would actually be a very small number, given the volume of bot and sock-puppet accounts out there. It is a drop in the ocean given the number of fake accounts that appear to be on my TL [(Twitter timeline), for example. I will not reveal her name as this was a conversation in the process of an analysis that is still ongoing,” she said.
Zille said while she did believe there was an “orchestrated campaign” against her, she did not believe it came from only one source.
“I certainly do believe that there is an orchestrated campaign to comb my timeline and look for anything that can be misconstrued, twisted, taken out of context and used to manufacture outrage. I think this is undoubtedly so.
“I do not necessarily think this is driven by one source, but several. I am an easy target – it is obvious that there are those who want to destroy the DA and our vision of a non-racial, inclusive South Africa.
“They do this by manipulating things to try to paint us as racist. It is a follow-on from the Zuma campaign of painting all opposition as puppets of ‘white monopoly capitalism’. Social media, especially Twitter, has made smearing so much easier. The purpose is to silence and marginalise – as has happened to so many people worldwide through ‘outrage’ and ‘cancel’ culture. But I refused to be cancelled through manipulated outrage, and people hate that,” she said.
The Citizen asked if Zille had any evidence that the EFF was involved in an orchestrated social media campaign against her.
“When the outrage lynch mob gets going, I look carefully at hashtags, profile pics, past tweets of a random stratified sample and the evidence is pretty clear. Especially on the last round. We also know that land is the Leitmotif of the EFF, so just go through the worst tweets and see. One doesn’t have to be Einstein to join the dots,” she said.
Zille was also asked if she believed it was possible that the DA had also used bots and fake accounts. She referred The Citizen to an article in Rapport newspaper, saying all she knew about “alleged DA fake accounts” was from this article.
“I can give the categorical assurance that the DA runs no fake accounts now,” she said.
“I totally reject this manipulative Bell Pottinger strategy that is destroying social media’s potential for being a platform for rational debate,” she added.
EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi responded to requests for comment from The Citizen by making it clear he does not take Zille’s claims about the EFF running a bot campaign against her seriously.
“She is delusional and should be in an old age home. She has no fresh contribution to make in our politics. Except old age white racism and white supremacy,” he said.