What triggered the hashtag #CongressToolkit, who gave it the impetus and what role influencers played at this event are some of the central questions of Joyojeet Pal, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, and Rynaa Grover, Research intern, answer based on her research. Pal and Grover analyzed the engagement of tweets with #CongressToolkit between May 18-22 by examining the tweets of politicians and influencers who used the hashtag.

Last week, tweets made the rounds on Twitter with an image allegedly alleged to be the tool of Congress to misrepresent the government’s pandemic efforts, with many prominent BJP politicians tweeting about it. Things took a turn when Twitter labeled these tweets “rigged media”. The government asked Twitter to remove this tag and Delhi police sent a notice to the social media platform asking them to provide information on the matter.

This study examined the first phase of this incident when the tweets were originally shared on the platform. A total of 1,609 unique tweets that were cumulatively retweeted over 1.95 million times in the 5-day period made up the data set. Here are some of the key takeaways.

Note: Your analysis is not based on Indian Standard Time (IST).

Peak activity in the first half of May 18th, decreased significantly after the fact check

The The first recorded tweet in the toolkit from an influential account was from @PMOIndia_RC on the morning of May 18th. In the first half of the day, ten major BJP politicians, each with more than 500,000 supporters, dealt with the topic.

From May 19, the number of tweets with the hashtag from BJP influencers began to decline. They fell significantly in the second half of the day after AltNews checked the story for fact. The hashtag rose again on May 21 after Twitter tagged Sambit Patra’s tweet as “manipulated media”.

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Image: Timeline of tweeting via #CongressToolkit, number of original tweets from influencer accounts

Karnataka MP Tejasvi Surya had the most retweets on the subject

After using the hashtag #CongressToolkit for the first time, there were 64 instances of a BJP leader with over 500,000 followers tweeting about the toolkit within the first 10 hours. Although Sambit Patra received a lot of attention for his tweet, it was Karnataka MP Tejasvi Surya who had the greatest impact on the general preoccupation with the issue. His five tweets on the subject had 29,151 retweets. It was followed by BJP’s Priti Gandhi, whose seventeen tweets contained 24525 retweets.

Image: Committed politicians on #CongressToolkit

Influence of fan accounts and second-layer influencers

Pal and Grover also analyzed tweets from influencers who “are not top politicians but still have a lot of power over the prevailing political discourse”. These accounts include fan accounts, BJP employee accounts, and those of independent citizens. The investigation identified 1,100 original tweets from such accounts on May 18. The investigation also identified ten handles with over 15,000 followers, all followed by the official handle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who tweeted most of the news on the subject.

Image: Twitter handles that sent the most messages on #CongressToolkit

“That gives us a feel for the size of the machine park and its ability to aggressively and successfully advance an idea.”

Create a virtual enemy to aim at

The first network to report on the matter was News Nation TV, which reported on the matter within two hours of the first tweet. News 24 was the channel that got the content most interested after its host Manak Gupta reinforced the hashtag #CongressToolkit. But otherwise the reporting on this topic remained “patchy,” according to research.

With little mainstream coverage on the subject, the event has been linked to individuals, noted Pal and Grover. “This resulted in Saumya Varma, an official in the office of former Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda, who was uncovered from the morning of the 19th. Journalist Sonia Faleiro was also systematically attacked. “This is typically a useful engagement technique for viral messaging as it creates a virtual enemy that social media users can focus on,” said Pal and Grover.

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