Why Big B’s Coronavirus Tweet Is a Cautionary Tale for All Celebs
Let’s be honest - we’re all, more or less, familiar with the eccentricities of Amitabh Bachchan’s social media presence. The man has a penchant for coming online at odd hours (early morning, late in the AM etc.) and tweeting his literal thoughts no matter their relevance. In fact, it’s this refreshingly naive confidence with which he expresses himself on social media that makes him seem quite adorable. That and also the fact that he is perhaps the only Bollywood actor who not only has a Tumblr but also religiously updates it like a personal journal.
Remember that time when the internet discovered Amitabh Bachchan’s obsession with calling out other celebrities who might have missed his birthday wish? Yeah. That was funny, wasn’t it?
On 23 March, Bachchan took to Twitter to share a (now deleted) message that seemed to be very much in tune with the kind of unverified and fake coronavirus-related ‘information’ that has been circulating in Indian WhatsApp groups. The tweet seemed to reinforce a rumour about how Sunday’s 5 pm clapping exercise, recommended by PM Narendra Modi, coincided with amavasya or the “darkest day of the month”. It further said that “Clapping, shankh (conch shell) vibrations reduce/destroy virus potency.”
Of course, the tweet must be judged in its entirety. Bachchan also attached a selfie with the tweet. The selfie had blue question marks scribbled all over it. Which, if I were to give him the benefit of doubt, implied that he was himself perplexed at the piece of information in question.
Now, if I were to tweet something similar from my personal Twitter account with less than 2k followers, it would mean nothing. But when someone like Bachchan - who is idolised by thousands in the country, who has over 40 million followers on Twitter - tweets that, it can be quite disastrous.
I understand that public personalities are in no way public property, that all humans are allowed to err, that social media policing is the last thing we need right now. But here’s the thing about being a celebrity - unsolicited scrutiny just sort of comes with the territory. In simple words, you’re going to have to deal with the good stuff as well as the bad stuff.
Especially not when the entire country is in the middle of coping with a pandemic. Ever since the first positive case of COVID-19 in India, misinformation and fake news have established themselves as additional hurdles in the overall struggle to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. Platforms like AltNews and The Quint’s own WebQoof section are working tirelessly to bust coronavirus-related myths and fake news that is rampant on social media right now. So, in an already vulnerable environment, Bachchan’s tweet is potentially hazardous.
Case in point being the spectacle that took place at 5 pm just a day before Bachchan’s tweet. Following PM Modi’s announcement of a janta curfew, WhatsApp forwards with claims similar to that of Bachchan’s tweet were doing the rounds. After a whole day of curfew on 22 March, we witnessed an unfortunate end to the benefits of the exercise when people took to streets and began celebrating. These mass gatherings across the country saw people dancing, playing the shankh, ringing bells, and celebrating in close proximity. Bachchan’s tweet, had it not been called out, would have further legitimised these rumours.
Although, I do think it would be slightly unfair to blame people entirely for being misinformed. These are unprecedented, scary times; people are vulnerable and desperately looking for any semblance of hope they can hold on to.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for Bachchan enjoying everything the internet has to offer. He wants to live-tweet his entire life, indulge in harmless banter, share his most bizarre thoughts without the fear of being judged? I’m down for all of that and more but only if he realises the extent to which he can be ‘candid’ on the internet. (Personally, I’d suggest he get an alt like all the cool kids these days.) Fame always comes with restrictions, and I don’t think that’s an alien concept to him.
Having said that, I’m happy that, following the backlash on Twitter, Bachchan took down his tweet. But it makes me wonder... what if there had been no backlash?