The social media fiasco started when Reetam Singh, son of Balwant Singh from Guwahati, met with an accident and criticised Ola publicly on Twitter. Singh claimed he was then attacked by Twitter trolls, whose tweets had a similar format and structure. Balwant Singh had tweeted and looped in CEO Bhavish Aggarwal complaining about an alleged regenerative braking malfunction.
Ola Electric using a bot army to play down criticism?
Recently, Ola was faced with an allegation from a customer who was involved in an accident in Guwahati. The victim’s father, Balwant Singh, tweeted about a possible malfunction of the regenerative braking that could have caused the accident. Ola Electric, in response, had provided a clarification after processing the victim’s scooter’s telemetrics and blamed the latter for overspeeding.
However, the father Balwant Singh took action against the company by issuing a legal notice blaming the company for violation of privacy and defamation. This came after Balwant Singh and Ola Electric had signed an agreement, which is signed with every customer, that forbade Ola Electric to publicly post any telemetry data related to the accident. Hence, Ola’s social media posting of telemetry data was a potential breach of privacy on the end of the seller.
In the meantime, Reetam Singh, the victim of the accident, spoke to Mint discussing a trend that he had stumbled upon. Reetam Singh, a lawyer by profession at Gauhati High Court, said that the tweet from his father had received a lot of flak from a series of accounts that had a similar pattern.
New accounts created to defend Ola?
Mint conducted an investigative study on the matter and produced a report. The report suggested that more than fifty accounts were reported to have played down criticism from Balwant Singh. Interestingly, most accounts had been created in or after 2021, while many were even created in March or April 2022. There were multiple instances where more than one account was found to tweet the same thing or address similar themes. In most cases, the accounts were found to tweet identical hashtags on tweets related to not just Ola, but various other Twitter trends. This could hint at a possible association with agencies assigned to create and uphold a positive image of the brand.
Around 100 accounts, including the 50 mentioned above, were found to regularly like, retweet and applaud Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal’s tweets and other elaborate content on Ola Electric’s ‘Make in India’ vision, its two-wheeler factory and its all-women workforce.
Notably, these accounts, perceived to be bots or freelancers, were also found to actively retweet posts from Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd (HPCL), Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL), Disney+ Hotstar, RealMe, Naveen Jindal along with some political accounts that belonged to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Ajay Bhatt, Manoj Yadav, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi Party. Trending hashtags such as #Corbevax and #Singham were also tweeted about in a synchronised manner from these accounts in question.
Ola Electric’s response
The company was approached to comment on the Reetam Singh incident and the allegations of Ola Electric employing a bot army to uphold its social media image, but it did not officially respond. In April, when the Mint visited Ola Electric’s FutureFactory near Bengaluru, CEO Bhavish Aggarwal played down critics. On being asked for his comments on the issues that the Ola S1 Pro is facing in the real world market, the CEO said that the company’s disparagers are “paying crores to bring the brand down”. On May 4th, Bhavish retweeted a tweet citing the report, and claimed he is subjected to “one of the biggest troll attacks in corporate India.”
He added, “My tweets now get more replies than even Modiji’s tweets despite fraction of his followers! And all copy paste negative replies. This tweet’s replies also will just prove my point!”