#Justice4SSR: Who’s Driving Sushant Singh’s Digital Afterlife?
Ordinary Facebook users came together to popularise hashtags that kept Sushant Singh Rajput relevant in the news.
#JusticeForSSR #Warriors4SSR #CBI4SSR
These hashtags have kept Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput alive on the internet even after three months of his unfortunate demise. The reason for this isn't the media frenzy we saw on primetime television or filmstars or politicians. It is the result of united efforts of ‘SSRians’ on Facebook groups and pages who came together to fight for the late star from Bihar. We looked at these groups and pages to see how these trends are created and who are the people who make it possible.
#JusticeForSSR and its variant #Justice4SSR were one of the first hashtags that started trending days after the actor's death. Other trends that have become popular are #Warriors4SSR, #Revolution4SSR, #ArrestRhea, etc.
There's a collection of hashtags which sometimes get repeated. Some members in Facebook groups group or the admins post the "hashtag of the day" on the group which is usually topical. Other members either make posts with that hashtag or use it in their comments.
For instance, the hashtag #ArrestRhea trended the most between 26 -28 August after her first television interview since the beginning of the investigation. CrowdTangle, a leading content discovery and social monitoring platform, showed that the hashtag saw over 350 public posts and 3.3 lakh interactions.
What Makes the SSRians Fight
We reached out to one of the admins of a group called "JUSTICE_FOR_SUSHANT", which had 119.1 k members while writing the story. Twenty-eight-year-old Kaizaad Banaji also owns a page of his own called "Voice of SSR".
The IT sector employee from Mumbai had met Rajput briefly two years ago and found him to be a very down-to-earth and genuine person. Banaji found it difficult to believe that Rajput could take his own life, and this motivated him to create a Facebook page, an Instagram handle and voice his thoughts and opinions relating to the case.
Banaji told us that there isn't anyone in particular who decides the hashtag for the day. Individuals start posting a hashtag on Twitter, and the one with most Tweets becomes the hashtag of the day.
“On Facebook, you can’t count the number of hashtags, on Instagram, maybe you can. On Twitter, you have this thing called trending. The number of tweets you put out in an hour with that particular hashtag decides your “hashtag of the day”. This hashtag has a life of 24-48 hours.”Kaizaad Banaji, Group Admin
While several of the groups were created after the actor’s death in June 2020, some fan pages and groups were converted to redirect the available followers into the cause. JUSTICE_FOR_SUSHANT was one such group. Some other Facebook groups didn’t change the name but have become a place where the star’s fans voice their opinions.
Aniket Giri, who is into modelling, is another admin of the page. The 22-year-old from Assam became an admin when a friend of his asked him to handle the group. Giri says that people’s support motivates him to continue his fight for justice.
When asked if he prefers online protests over TV debates, he said, “Honestly, in today's time people don't have the time to watch TV. Everything is available on social media. If they want to know something they just have to go online and each and every information will be on their hand within a second. So, I personally prefer online [over TV].”
Poonam Shah, a jewellery designer based in the United States of America, says her energies connected with Rajput at a divine level. A self-proclaimed SSR admirer-turned -warrior, she had been voicing her opinion since 14 June on her personal handle and later moved to the public groups and pages. “I see them [hashtags] on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on support groups, etc and I catch on. I post everywhere on all forums and groups. I also put these hashtags in all my posts and I tell my followers and colleagues to repost them,” Shah says.
“Online fight is by real people like you and me who have no agenda or vested interests. We stand to gain nothing but justice for SSR. All other avenues have ulterior motives and vested agendas. We the people are only unbiased forum fighting for SSR selflessly. [sic]”Poonam Shah
Patna’s Anupam Vikash is a member of a page called “Justice for Sushant Singh Rajput” which has over 7,00,000 followers. According to 27-year-old Vikash, Rajput was “a pure soul and a true inspiration”. Vikash believes that online protests haven’t been completely effective yet but he too would choose them over TV debates.
Bots or Not
We looked at the social media activity of the SSRians before the actor's death. One can observe considerable differences in their online presence before and after the actor's death. Their online activity has increased tenfold with some posting more than ten posts in a day, both on their profiles and the groups/pages.
Shah's previous posts included movie reviews, food blogs and personal updates. She started writing about the actor on her profile from the day he died. Soon her posts started getting noticed, and other members began sharing them on groups/pages.
Vikash, who was a fan of the actor, had in 2018 said that a movie that inspired his life was MSD: The Untold Story. He now shares videos, news reports or posts on Rajput, punctuated by an occasional meme or a personal update.
Giri, although an admin of the group, doesn't post as much as the others. Banaji, on the other hand, writes and shares multiple times a day on all his social media profiles.
There is obvious coordination in making a hashtag trend, but it's unlikely that this trend is bot-driven. First Draft news, in its report on detecting bot accounts, explains that bots make several posts in a day, which goes upwards of 100. In this case, the posts were made sporadically over a long period of time and not by the same account.
The hashtag of the day on 6 October, #302ForSSR saw 2,116 public posts on Facebook and had over 15 lakh interactions between 6 and 7 October. The hashtag started trending a day after Dr Sudhir Gupta and his team of doctors from AIIMS submitted their conclusion that Rajput died by suicide.
We mapped the posts made with the hashtag #302ForSSR made on 6 October 2020 and created a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file with the help of Crowd Tangle. We observed that the time difference between the posts was not small enough so as to be suspicious. It shows that individuals and not bots made the posts.
We reached out to Facebook for a comment and Facebook Company Spokesperson has this to say, "We are continually reviewing activity on our platform for potential violations of our policies. We look at a variety of signals including, groups of people working together in a coordinated way, using a combination of authentic and fake accounts, to mislead people about who they are and what they're doing, and to misrepresent where the content is coming from. We've taken down such pages and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted. We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing effort and we are committed to continually improving to stay ahead.”
According to Banaji, his Facebook account was suspended for a couple of days because someone reported his account as a bot. His account has since been reinstated. Banaji believes that somebody murdered Rajput, a thought that reflects in his Twitter handle that is called @3024Ssr.
After Dr Gupta's statement, some groups started discrediting and abusing him. Rhea Chakraborty, her family and other Bollywood celebrities also faced similar hate directed towards them. These posts are not abusive but suggest members to be offensive, and the result is an abuse-filled comment section. Facebook removes the abusive comments that don’t follow Facebook community standards.
Activists, ordinary office-going people, and students make up most of the members of these groups. People seem to take time out of their daily lives and invest in this cause. Although some theories related to the case come from three-four social media influencers, everyday Facebook users spread those claims and increase their reach.
Not all posts show love for Rajput. Some members of the groups have been posting unproven theories that have sometimes made their way on to mainstream media.
For example, leading media houses ran a story on the link between the deaths of Disha Salian, Rajput's former manager, and Rajput's death. The creator of a Facebook page called "InsaafSSR", Prashaant Kumar, claimed that his “friend” had informed him about what happened the day Salian died.
He created a detailed post from that information which started with the words "Maybe something like this has happened… or it has not happened...". Leading TV new channels picked up that theory and interviewed Kumar. The groups and pages are filled with other such theories, some of which have been debunked.
“A lot of people were united when we got into this campaign, but right now we see division in it, and we are trying to do damage control. Many people are going astray. Some news channels are showing all sort of fake news which is not even required.”Kaizaad Banaji
The life of a story on the internet is very short. People usually move on to the next viral thing within a week. We were jamming to the "Rasode mein kaun tha" tune a week ago, after bidding PUBG a tearful goodbye and soon we will be talking about selling our kidneys again after the iPhone12 comes into the market.
However, contrary to everyone’s expectations, the Sushant Singh Rajput case has managed to hold on to the nation's attention and the credit goes to these groups and handles on social media.
This sort of coordinated effort shows that it doesn't necessarily take bots or a lot of money to make something trend on social media. We can keep arguing about who started the trends – news anchors, political parties or social media influencers. But, it certainly looks like it's ordinary people who kept the flame alive.
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