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What Not To Do On Twitter: Create Fake Accounts To Show “Grassroots” Support For An Oil Pipeline

The oil industry is losing friends fast, and this latest Twitter stunt won’t win them back: The American Petroleum Institute (API) has been accused of creating more than a dozen fake Twitter accounts to promote a new pipeline.

The KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline is a proposed pipeline that would transport oil from Alberta to Texas if approved by the US government. Several environmentalist and local organizations have taken issue with the pipeline, however, and have been using the hashtag #tarsands to discuss the project.

As first reported by The Understory, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) noticed that the #tarsands hashtag saw a spike in traffic earlier this week. But these weren’t the type of organic tweets you’d expect from a hashtag that was facilitating a debate: “Within three minutes, fifteen accounts all posted the message ‘#tarsands the truth is out! [LINK]‘ linking to API’s web page about oil sands.” They also noticed a second and third bout of tweets from the same accounts linking to various website supporting the pipeline. These accounts have bios and even pictures, but all of them are less than a week old and haven’t tweeted about anything other than their support for the pipeline.

After a little digging, they put together this list of suspected fake accounts created by the API to promote the pipeline, many of whom are now tweeting things like “I am a living person look me up” and “We are all new to twitter but that doesn’t mean we are not REAL”. The protests could be a result of a big oil company backed into a corner and not knowing how to get out of it, or they could be the real protests of people who found themselves on a list of “API sock puppets”.

Either way, something fishy had been going on, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the new Twitter accounts were either fakes created by the API or its supporters, or were created by real people at the behest of the pipeline’s supporters.

However you slice it, this is not the kind of attention that big oil needs right now, nor is it the kind of thing you’d want your brand doing on Twitter. Take it from me, creating fake accounts to astroturf, or put up fake testimonials or messages of support, is something that you will not get away with for long on an open network like Twitter. So learn from the negative attention that API is getting in the media right now, and don’t add this to your social media marketing repetoire.

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