India has the third largest number of Twitter users in the world. Given the long-standing geopolitical tensions between India and China, as well as the relative lack of knowledge average Indians likely have about Chinese politics and how to discern media accounts supported by Falun Gong, no it is necessarily surprising that they fall in love and spread the rumor.
Despite several recent reports of increased bot activity originating in India, there is still not enough evidence to determine whether it was a coordinated effort to fuel the coup rumor. There are suspicious signs, such as “many new accounts, as well as the fact that some of the key influencers now [are] suspended,” Jones told me. “That doesn’t necessarily indicate it’s state-backed, just a lot of inauthentic activity.”
Of course, this being Twitter, many other accounts are capitalizing on the popularity of this speech and in turn amplifying the story even more. This includes people intentionally trolling unsuspecting users by pairing old videos with the new rumor, and some users in Africa are hijacking the hashtag to gain visibility for their own content, apparently a long-practiced trick among users of Nigeria and Kenya.
By Monday, the buzz had mostly died down. Although Xi has yet to run, recent documents reaffirmed his participation and influence at the upcoming party congress, showing that he is still very much in power.
The fact that a completely unfounded rumor, which basically happens every other month in Chinese Twitter circles, could grow so much and have fooled so many people is both amusing and depressing. The bottom line: Social media is still a mess full of misinformation, but you might not notice that mess if you’re not familiar with the topic at hand.