Nigeria: Investigation – How Nigerian Influencers, Others Violate Social Media Policy Running Brand Campaign

PREMIUM TIMES found more than a dozen X accounts -most of them parody accounts of influential social media users- drumming support for Erisco Foods on 19 January.

In January, a network of X (Twitter) accounts carried out what appears to be a coordinated influence operation for Erisco Foods Limited and violated the social media platform’s policies in the process.

Erisco Foods Limited is the Nigerian food product manufacturer that faced backlash following the arrest of a customer, Chioma Okoli, who criticised one of its products on social media last year.

PREMIUM TIMES found more than a dozen X accounts – many of them faceless and parody accounts of influential social media users – drumming support for Erisco Foods on 19 January.

They authored a series of posts on X, using the hashtag #Eriscofood, to drive a campaign to launder the image of the corporate brand over accusations of human rights violation against Mrs Okoli, the customer arrested for critiquing the brand’s product.

One of the genuine pages that took part in this campaign belongs to a social media influencer and internet celebrity, Chibuike Gabriel, popularly known as Untouchable Comedy.

Untouchable Comedy specifically asked social media users to follow Erisco’s X handle for a spot in his numerous cash giveaways. The giveaway culture is a popular tactic used by social media influencers to drive engagement for their posts.

Parody accounts of social media influencers — including that of the popular crossdresser, Bobrisky; Comedian Brainjotter and MummyZee, the internet sensation that got gifts following her post of waking up early to cook for her husband,– also asked people to use the hashtag #Eriscofood in their replies to win cash giveaways.

These accounts attempted to create false support for the brand and instigate virality for the products and followers for Erisco’s X handle.

These activities pass for an Influence Operation, which violates X’s manipulation and spam policy.

Influence Operation is any organised attempt to skew how people see an idea or in this case, a brand. Influence Operation can take the form of spreading misinformation, but could also mean boosting something true but relatively minor to take a disproportionate size in online conversations.

PREMIUM TIMES could, however, not find any evidence that Erisco Foods funded or instigated the campaign although critics and observers believe so.

Erisco Foods Vs Chioma Okoli

Last September, Chioma Okoli, (Chioma Egodi Jnr on Facebook) found herself in trouble for posting a review of Nagiko, a tomato mix manufactured by Erisco Foods Limited, on her Facebook page. In the review that went viral and elicited a response from the company, Mrs Okoli said the tomato paste tasted sugary.

She posted that she had intended to buy a different product but settled for Nagiko when she could not find the product of her choice at a store on 16 September. “When I opened it, I decided to taste it, Omo! Sugar is just too much!” she wrote in the Facebook post.

In its official reaction, Erisco Foods Limited described as “untrue and unfounded”, that its tomato paste tastes sugary. The company claimed that “the post was obviously intended to mislead our esteemed customers and discredit the image of Erisco Foods Limited.” It also vowed to take “all necessary actions against any malicious attack” on its reputation.

Days later, Mrs Okoli was arrested by the police in Lagos and transferred to Abuja following a petition by Eric Umeofia, the president and CEO of Erisco Foods. Both parties have been in court since then.

In November, the Federal High Court in Lagos barred the police from arresting or detaining Mrs Okoli while her case with Erisco Foods is ongoing.

But in violation of this court order, the police, said to be acting on the orders of the Inspector General of Police, laid siege to Mrs Okoli’s home in Lagos on 10th January, her counsel and human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, raised alarm on social media. The police officers eventually vacated Mrs Okoli’s home after Mr Effiong’s post about the siege attracted a public outcry.

As all of these happened, Nigerians on social media criticised Erisco Foods and its president, accusing them of using the police to harass and violate the rights of Mrs Okoli.

Giveaway and more Giveaways

Around 9 a.m. on 19 January, Erisco Foods made a lengthy post on X, denying orchestrating Mrs Okoli’s rearrest by the police and explaining all that had happened between the organisation and Mrs Okoli. The organisation said Mrs Okoli has failed to meet her bail conditions which include deleting the initial post and publishing an apology letter for the brand on the same Facebook page.

“Erisco Foods did not initiate Chioma’s supposed rearrest. However, we have filed a N5 billion lawsuit against her, which is yet to take effect primarily due to challenges in serving her with the required legal documents, exacerbated by her consistent evasion of court service,” the company wrote.

A few hours before this post, around 12:54 a.m. on the same day, @untouchablecmdy made a post on his verified X handle asking social media users to follow Erisco’s X page to stand a chance to win N100,000 giveaway. The giveaway culture is a popular tactic used by social media influencers to artificially drive engagement for their posts.

“100k for few actives more online. Follow @EriscoOfficial and drop your details. Picking as many again (sic),” he posted.

Between 16 and 19 January, PREMIUM TIMES found that @untouchablecmdy made posts about Erisco and tagged @EriscoOfficial at least once a day. Except for the last one he made on 19 January, he has deleted the rest from his page.

Later that day, parody accounts posing as popular celebrities asked social media users to use the hashtag #Eriscofood in comments to their posts for a chance to win cash ‘giveaway’ prizes. The more people use the hashtag, the more they artificially increase the number of posts, making it appear like more people are posting about it.

“What business can you start with 100k? Reply using #Eriscofood,” posted @bobrisky222_, a parody account of the popular Nigerian Internet personality, Bobrisky.

Another Parody account of a woman who recently went viral in Nigeria, MummyZee, @_Dabbie_PA posted: “I’m giving another set of people N50,000 each. Just tell me if I’ve not picked you today and add #Eriscofood to your replies. Quickly Reply to times to win.”

Parody accounts infuriate Nigerians

Meanwhile, when this campaign started gaining traction on social media, many Nigerians with the knowledge of the saga between Erisco and Mrs Okoli were infuriated and lashed at Nigerian internet celebrities. They accused the celebrities of having accepted money from the brand to promote them at the expense of the rights of a citizen.

“I am not surprised that influencers are collecting money to trend this brand in a desperate attempt to undo the damage (self-inflicted) suffered by the arrogant company,” Mr Effiiong, Mrs Okoli’s attorney, wrote in a quote to @brainjotter__, one of the accounts participating in the campaign.

Another X user, @Adextun_2177 also took a swipe at @brainjotter__: “This is really not encouraging from you The same #Eriscofood who intimidates a vibrant young lady because of customers review? #Shameless”.

PREMIUM TIMES could, however, not find any evidence that Erisco Foods funded or instigated the campaign although critics and observers believe so.

What many of the critics did not know at the time was that those they were lashing at were not the actual celebrities but unidentified people behind parody accounts.

On 11 January, a week before this coordinated social media campaign, the comedian posted a disclaimer on his Instagram page that he doesn’t own an X account, asking social media users to report any X account in his name. PREMIUM TIMES checked old videos of Brainjotter on his YouTube page to see the X account he had used there before. It showed that the comedian had previously used ‘@brainjotter_’ and not ‘@brainjotter__’ (with a double underscore).

Meanwhile, the real account of Mummy Zee is verified and was created in October 2021. The parody account has the parody written in the profile and is unverified. The account was also created in June 2023.

Then Coordinated, Inauthentic posts

Between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on 19 January, at least 10 other X handles started making posts in support of Erisco in the saga involving the brand and Mrs Okoli.

These handles like, repost and quote each other’s tweets, apparently to drive engagement and increase traction for their posts.

PREMIUM TIMES analysed some of the posts and the handles and found that they engage in a lot of promotional coordinated campaigns. Most of the accounts were created in the last quarter of 2022. Only a handful were created at other times between 2021 and 2023.

They all have large followings between 5,000 and 16,000 followers. However, the engagements on the accounts are low, suggesting that the followers may have been inflated or that they are being followed by bot accounts.

In this case, they all published similar content, using the same screenshots, pictures and videos in a manner that looks nothing short of a coordinated activity.

Meanwhile, none of the handles had posted about the saga before 19 January or after that day. But they all reposted Erisco’s post that day.

For instance, at exactly 3:52 p.m. that day @Fabulous__Jr posted: “Erisco did not order the arrest of Chioma, I feel like this should trend cos this company has been receiving heat over this issue. Sad Sad Sad country. #Eriscofood.”

It was reposted by @PAmirrah, @okoyepaul22, @HorllyL, @PriscyWalker, @_Yusrah_yusuf and @NaNer_Fareehert. All of them would also make similar posts to be engaged by the same set of handles.

That same post was also made by five other accounts; @HorllyL, @princious817, @janny_V and @pherhonicha.

Bot or real accounts

It was difficult to know for certain if these accounts were operated by bots or real people. Previously, researchers and OSINT Investigators used Botometer and other tools to analyse the activity of X accounts and determine if they passed for a real or bot account. But Twitter (now X) has limited access to the API that most of these tools rely on to pull this data.

However, ‘@Fabulous__’ one of the accounts was rated a ‘problematic 82 per cent’ in rating to determine Bot accounts using Bot Sentinel, one of the few remaining tools that still work. The ranking is between 1 and 100, and the higher the number, the higher the likelihood of an account being operated by a Bot or engaging in nefarious activities.

Violating Social Media Policy

Meanwhile, PREMIUM TIMES’ review of X usage policy revealed that the X handles that took part in the campaign have violated some of the platform’s policies.

For instance, Untouchable Comedy’s giveaway to drive traffic and followership for Erisco Foods is frowned upon in X’s platform’s policy updated in March 2023.

“You can’t artificially inflate your own or others’ followers or engagement,” part of the platform’s policy reads.

The platform also prohibits users from trading or coordinating to “exchange follows” or post engagements including participation in “follow trains”.

It also prohibits using its services “in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behaviour that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience or platform manipulation defences.”

The policy went further to list the forms of platform manipulation to include “inauthentic engagements that attempt to make accounts or content appear more popular or active than they are.”

It also includes coordinated activity that attempts to artificially influence conversations through the use of multiple accounts, fake accounts, automation and scripting.

It is a terrible practice, especially in marketing and sales, said Silas Jonathan, head of Digital Investigations at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).

He said such campaigns are usually used on social media to drive marketing and “create an exaggerated perception of a product and ultimately mislead the consumer.”

“These coordinated accounts, in such cases, act like agents of public manipulation, compelling users on the platform to see what they naturally wouldn’t,” he said.

“This is why social media platforms clearly outline when a post is an ad. It’s not just for aesthetics; it’s for clarity and transparency.”

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