Even as the Vedanta-owned Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few months, a curious social media trend occured on Thursday when hundreds of tweets suddenly popped in support of the plant.
While it is a common occurrence for topics to trend on social media under a certain hashtag, Thursday evening saw a slew of tweets that were more or less similarly worded.
Between 6: 44 pm and 7: 31 pm on July 6- just under an hour- over 600 accounts had posted with the two words: "Reopen Sterlite."
One message read, â€śSterlite contractors demand re-opening of copper plant. Protestors cry foul, say their children were brainwashed. REOPEN STERLITE.â€ť
All the handles that had posted the above tweet had also tagged the offices of the Prime Minister as well as the Commerce Minister.
The second tweet that did the rounds read, â€śItâ€™s the same people who wish to REOPEN STERLITE It is clearly visible that itâ€™s the anti-social elements whoâ€™s doing this against #Sterliteâ€ť
Over 1,574 tweets had been registered by 605 accounts. While 25 percent of these were text tweets, 13 percent contained links and images. 62 percent were retweets.
In fact, one handle on Twitter that points out fake trends on Twitter had shown that not only that only was this a fake trending topic but also that many of handles were parroting each other, seemingly a copy-paste job.
With weeks of bad press, it is likely that Thursdayâ€™s flurry of tweets were a PR effort. Curiously, most tweets were not from handles based out of Tamil Nadu.
While some tweets appeared to be genuine, many seemed to be coming from spam handles created just to post the tweet. With Twitterâ€™s new policy of dealing with spurious accounts, it will be interesting to note how public relations efforts innovate to trend topics or drive conversations around their products on social media.
The tweets were referencing a representation made by contractors of the now defunct Sterlite copper smelter. The contractors, who were dependent on the functioning of Sterlite for their income met with Tamil Nadu's Minister for Information and Publicity Kadambur Raju, making a request to reopen the plant. Just a day before, the Threspuram Fishermen's Association from Thoothukudi had alleged that Makkal Adhigaram, a Tamil nationalist outfit, had reportedly recruited people to protest against the plant.
The 100th day of the protest had turned violent on May 22, resulting in the police gunning down 13 civilians. Over a month after itâ€™s shutting down, a sulphuric acid leak was discovered at the plant. While the district administration announced that it had contained the leak, Sterlite has been arguing its case in court, seeking to allow its employees into the plant for maintenance work.