PSG: the case of fake Twitter accounts is more "a digital battalion than an army"

PSG: the case of fake Twitter accounts is more “a digital battalion than an army”

According to Mediapart’s revelations, PSG would have commissioned a communication agency to discredit certain targets through false Twitter accounts. A case that looks more like an organized influence operation than a massive manipulation according to a study by the start-up Kap Code.

Disappointing results, a bad joke on the ‘land yacht’, wishes for a Kylian Mbappé to leave in full swing, and now a ‘digital army’… This is the latest scare on PSG’s side, where the controversy is now. He linked faster than Neymar’s goals. On Wednesday, Mediapart revealed that the capital club had hired an agency, Digital Big Brother, to deploy a galaxy of fake Twitter accounts to carry out digital raids against certain targets. With in the viewer, uproar: the Rennes fan who slapped Neymar after the 2019 French Cup final, the young woman who accused the Brazilian of rape, but also Adrien Rabiot and his mother Véronique, Jean-Michel Aulas, Antero Henrique and media like The team Y media part. Even Mbappé would have been a victim of this smear campaign three years ago. The charges were quickly swept away by PSG.

With RMC Sport, a source close to the club denounced “a lot of nonsense”, assuring that “he never hired an agency to harm a person or an institution”. Be that as it may, the Mediapart investigation adds to the long list of episodes that have disturbed the image of the French champion in recent weeks. The case also recalls the one involving the former president of FC Barcelona, Joseph Bartomeu, accused of having paid a million euros to a company to improve his image and that of the Blaugrana board before public opinion, through false accounts created on social networks. The image of several personalities (Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué, Pep Guardiola, etc.) had been attacked and even Bartomeu had been arrested in March 2021. In the case of the “digital army” that PSG would have launched, how to quantify the magnitude of this operation revealed by media part ?

A “handmade” operation

The start-up Kap Code, specialized in the analysis of social networks and methods of massive disinformation, has delved into this issue by carrying out a preliminary study. “It is a very different case from anything we have dealt with so far. It has nothing to do, for example, with what happened with the smear operation that Barça could have carried out or with the public opinion campaign that has been carried out around of the Super League project. That was industry. For PSG, we are dealing more with something handmade”, explains Adel Mebarki, co-founder of Kap Code.

His study focused on three themes: the denigration of media part in the context of Football Leaks, the denigration of The team regarding the dissemination of certain information about PSG, and finally the denigration of the Rennes fan hit in the face by Neymar. To do this, Kap Code extracted and studied more than 200,000 tweets published by approximately 90,000 Twitter accounts between October 1, 2018 and December 15, 2019.

“When you first look at the volume (how many people have tweeted and retweeted messages), you realize that there have not been that many tweets about the Neymar case and the follower. We are talking about 500 tweets in total. And it reached just under 4,000.” You have shares. It is not a mass phenomenon. In terms of popularity, the two media topics have been much more commented on than the topic surrounding the Neymar topic. The team (63,000 posts with retweets) and media part (133,000 messages with retweets) represent a much higher volume”, details Adel Mebarki. In general, a “classic” massive manipulation campaign, with very specific strategies, relies on tens of thousands of bots and trolls to promote content.

Volume of mentions by topic
Volume of mentions by topic © Kap Code

“We talked about more than hundreds of trolls in the PSG case. They are limited proportions contrary to what we usually see. The impact on public opinion in terms of virality has been limited. You should know that when you do this type of activity, you usually mobilize armies of bots. For PSG, there were rather few bots. We also see that there was some engagement at one point, like when the Paname Squad account got close to 10,000 followers, but the resumption of speech (tweets, retweets, likes) wasn’t that big of a deal. In concrete terms, we are more before a digital battalion than before an army”, summarizes Adel Mebarki. This is explained by the “handmade” aspect of the operation and by the visibly limited investment effort. “The informative operation seems to correspond more to an operation of organized influence than to massive manipulation”, concludes Kap Code. On the interest of measuring the risk-benefit balance…

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