Fisker Is Trying to Drum Up Hype With Fake Article Comments Using an Indian Social Media Firm
Whenever you hear the words online reputation management, two underhanded marketing activities should immediately come to mind.
The first: fake reviews. There are agencies that exist solely to place fake reviews on sites like Yelp, DealerRater, and Google Reviews to increase a business’s overall rating. For a great example of this, see Bark M.’s piece on Orlando Kia West.
The second reputation management tactic is to, again, hire an agency to place comments from fake readers in article comments that cover topics related to a particular business.
It’s this second tactic we are going to discuss today.
Fisker is no stranger to controversy and bad press. However, much of the automotive press is more than willing — more than happy, even — to give Henrik and his new company a “get out of jail free” card as it covers the new Fisker Inc. Yet, a small subset of the media exists to find the real story behind the press release and we’re more than willing to offer up the bad news with the good.
Fisker or another actor (who we’ll get to in a moment) is trying to make those professional opinions irrelevant by any means necessary. And they’re using — wait for it — an Indian online reputation management company to lift its own corporate profile and wage a proxy war against Karma Automotive, the same company Henrik founded as Fisker Automotive in 2007.
Identifying fake accounts is easy
At The Truth About Cars, when a new user signs up for a commenter account, the first comment made by that user must always — no matter what — be approved by an editor or someone else with the privileges to do so.
As I sat down this morning to execute my morning routine, I noticed a few new comments from new accounts awaiting moderation.
The comments from Derek_, Jerry__, and BrandonSkinner are not unlike many of the spam-type comments we receive from time to time on TTAC and I might not identify them as suspect on their own. However, as a cluster, patterns can be found in these three comments that raise numerous red flags.
The first and easiest pattern to spot: all users commented on the same article covering Fisker’s new door design. The users did not comment on any other articles.
The second easily identifiable pattern is the content of the comments themselves. All comments are very positive with regards to the door design we reported and Fisker itself/himself.
But the smoking gun is the associated metadata.
The user accounts all use @notmailinator.com email addresses, suggesting these email accounts are used as throwaways for the purpose of commenting. Additionally, thanks to Bozi Tatarevic’s sleuth work, we were able to determine the IP addresses attached to each comment are owned by a company called PureVPN.
A virtual private network (VPN) is used in the corporate world to break an internal network off from the open internet for security purposes. Additionally, a VPN can be used to hide a user’s real IP address. Because these new users are commenting through a VPN service, we aren’t able to determine exactly who left these comments or where they’re from.
However, if an individual or group is willing to go these lengths to create fake comments on The Truth About Cars, there’s a chance we may find similar comments on articles covering Fisker on other websites if we did a little digging.
And we were right.
Fake commenter accounts are found in almost all Fisker Inc and Karma Automotive-related coverage
As we skimmed the latest Fisker headlines, it became quickly apparent nearly all Fisker coverage was commented on by fake accounts.
From BusinessInsider’s coverage titled “ Henrik Fisker just released a teaser image of his Tesla rival“:
Joshua54 and Frederick J. Jone (or Frederick J) had a somewhat disconnected conversation on BusinessInsider about the new Fisker’s butterfly doors and interior room — even though nothing has been announced about interior space in the new Fisker.
A number of commenters on the same BusinessInsider article shout Fisker praise into the ether. No replies; a trickle of upvotes. All have the same space after (sometimes misused) ellipses. All of the comments were written within 40 minutes of each other and look as if they could be written by the same person.
From The Drive’s article titled “ This Is Fisker’s New Tesla-Fighting Electric Car“:
Notice the comments from sean_cohen, Nick, Wallace, and Ryan. The last planted commenter, Ryan, says, “I got butterflies in my stomach…” Ryan’s comment is almost identical — down to the replacement of “have” with “got” — to a comment at TechCrunch by Cars & Trucks, a Facebook commenter account:
Other (real) commenters start spotting the fakes
The last commenter on The Drive’s coverage calls out the fakes.
User Skeptic says:
Most of the “Fisker loving” commenters here and on Business Insider are foreigners with poor English paid by Fisker to post fake comments on every article about Fisker.
We spotted the fakes across different sites utilizing the Disqus commenting system, too.
From Evo’s article titled “ Henrik Fisker’s new electric car previewed in teaser image“:
“The best design I have seen so far. I was to go for an EV this or next year but will wait until this comes out,” posted commenter Elijah Weisz in the comments on Evo.
Remember that name.
Over at Electrek, we see Elijah Weisz make more appearances in the comment section for an article titled “ Karma officially launches the Revero: reveals interior, DC fast-charging & $130,000 price tag,” all of them flattering toward Fisker and defamatory toward the new Karma Automotive, the automotive company owned by Chinese automotive parts supplier Wanxiang and made up of the prior Fisker Automotive’s assets:
Another commenter on Electrek called out the fake accounts, much like the poster on The Drive:
Electrek commenter Joel says:
So I’m noticing something hilarious – not about the story, but about the comments. Check out how many of the Pro-Karma commentors (sic) have only commented on this article, or other Karma related articles.
While Joel erroneously called out the fake accounts as shilling for Karma, which has no connection to the new Fisker Inc. or Henrik Fisker, he was on the right track. We looked at the accounts, which revealed more patterns.
Most of the accounts were either created on September 9th or October 4th on Disqus, which correlates with the publish dates of some articles covering Fisker Inc. and Karma Automotive. All of them use somewhat broken English, praise Henrik Fisker and his company, and poo-poo on Karma Automotive.
Behind every great man is an even greater woman
IP addresses can be spoofed. What can’t be spoofed is history.
In 2012, Henrik Fisker married Geeta Gupta, a successful doctor who focused on the biotechnology industry.
Since 2012, Henrik’s wife, now named Geeta Fisker, has been CEO of Platinum Life Ventures, a company Mrs. Fisker’s LinkedIn profile describes as firm specializing in “Private Equity and Venture Capital Investing in Technology, Biotechnology, Cleantech and Transportation.” Geeta is the only listed registered officer of Platinum Life Ventures.
In June 2013, Geeta was additionally appointed COO of Henrik Fisker Group.
According to two sources who spoke with TTAC on the condition of anonymity, it’s likely Geeta, her family, or Geeta’s Indian contacts that are funding Henrik Fisker’s latest automotive venture.
And since the rebirth of Henrik’s automotive dreams, Geeta has been very involved in promoting Fisker Inc. and criticizing Karma Automotive.
In the comments on our own coverage of Karma Automotive, “ The Karma Revero Is Much More Than a Rehash of a Former Failure,” user EVfanatic posted:
To the writer Mark Stevenson:
I was a Fisker investor, and I can tell you your article is a complete misrepresentation of facts. Infact you have been misled by the 4 posters you interviewed:
Alexander Klatt, the German was the architect before of the navigation system. So if he claims (I do not believe it) that he got it correct this time, was he sleeping at Fisker Automotive. Or perhaps his excuse is he never got a chance…
Jenkins: This engineer has clearly no clue, since he does not talk about the faulty battery A123 that drowned my investment in both companies.
Jason: So you spent 3 years building an infotainment system and are suggesting how innovative you are? Well done, but this is not going to sell your car.
Jim Taylor: Funding Super Bowl ads and going to events with Morgan Freeman (Tesla investor and supporter): Where did you get your PR degree.
Hoax article. Chinese Hoax Wanxiang had an opportunity to come into A123 and Fisker prior to their bankruptcy, but these bottom feeders waited till last moments. Anyhow for these 4 posters who claim they have created a masterpiece, shame on you for the deceipt.
Using metadata associated with the account, we were able to determine the person who posted the comment was none other than Geeta Fisker.
The same user also posted on TTAC’s recent Fisker coverage, stating:
Totally Love it
… and …
Steph Willems like your humor angle to the article…makes it interesting to read..although I dont mean to belittle any brand..but all articles are so serious. Its good to have a lighter side.
The most recent comments from Geeta were submitted in the same one-hour time frame as the fake comments held in moderation.
At no time did Geeta identify herself in the comments on either article beyond being a former Fisker investor.
All roads lead to cheap Indian social media services
Henrik is a designer, and an old-school one at that, who uses a paper and pencil instead of a digital tablet. So it should be no surprise that Henrik leaves much of the digital efforts to others.
“Henrik knows nothing about social media,” one of our sources told us. “If anyone is doing anything, it’s Geeta.”
Approximately one month ago, Geeta Gupta joined the closed group “Fisker Karma Owners and Fan Club” on Facebook.
Immediately, she began posting pro-Fisker commentary and criticizing those who have any perceived connection with Karma.
“She’s tenacious,” said one source.
At the same time Geeta joined the group, a man by the name of Sanket Phakatkar also joined. Mr. Phakatkar lists his job as “Founder and Owner at Your Social Guy.”
Your Social Guy’s website is a generic template site offering social media and other reputation management services.
From the “Your Social Guy” site:
Eliminate Negative Branding
We listen to the online conversation around your brand and understand what is being said about it and why they are saying it. Whether it is a tweet, facebook post or a web page addition or any other marketing and branding related activity, our unique tracking system keeps a tab / check on everything and provides us a alert in real-time to send across to you for immediate action.
In a nutshell, that means Your Social Guy likely receives Google Alerts whenever [your brand] is mentioned, then creates commenter accounts and uses them to establish or reaffirm a brand’s positive reputation by leaving comments similar to the ones we saw on TTAC and other sites.
Now, it should be said this could all be a massive coincidence. Mr. Phakatkar could just be a friend of Geeta Fisker or a fan of Henrik Fisker. But one thing is certain: Mr. Phakatkar is no Fisker Karma owner by his own admission.
That raises the question: why is Mr. Phakatkar in the group in the first place?
When TTAC contacted Fisker Inc. about the commenter accounts, a spokesperson emailed back, “To the best of our knowledge, none of our employees or vendors have been involved in these activities. We are talking to all of our employees, vendors and partners to make our policy clear and to reiterate that we have never, and will not ever tolerate this moving forward.”
Hype and lies
Fisker Inc. claims to have some wild, earth-shattering graphene battery technology waiting in the wings. It will deliver untold efficiency for Fisker’s latest, sexy creation.
But would a company on the verge of revealing such industry-changing technology be relying on a fly-by-night, online reputation management service in India? Probably not.
If Fisker the company, Henrik Fisker, or his wife and Fisker Inc. COO Geeta Fisker are willing to stoop this low to manage Fisker’s reputation, should we believe its game-changing battery claims? Should we believe Fisker can deliver a vehicle at all?
There are many claims and lots of hype surrounding Fisker at the moment. This has just given us a reason to dig deeper.
Keep an eye on this space. There’s more to come.
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I logged in this one time to commend Mark Stevenson for a) discovering this possible pattern and connection regarding this Indian social networking/marketing firm (with a possible connection to the wife of Henrik Fisker), and b) having the old-school journalistic balls to publish this. This article represents a return to the best of what TTAC once was, and could be yet again.
Aaaand, apparently Fisker is still at it, just been getting lots of posts on Disqus in support of Fisker from a brand new account (January 5th 2018) aptly named "spinbymike." Hmmm, I so wonder, what are the chances....