Shortly after her tweet went viral, Twitterati saw many Indian celebrities resorting to similar-worded posts sporting hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda in which they exhorted followers to not let “external forces” be participants in the country’s internal matters.
These included sportspersons Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Anil Kumble, Saina Nehwal, Suresh Raina, as well as film industry bigwigs like Akshay Kumar, Karan Johar, Ajay Devgn, Suniel Shetty, among others.
The last time such a massive pantheon of stars descended on Twitter with largely similar-worded sentiment… https://t.co/qbBbobxHnt
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) 1612406809000
The incident has split fans down the middle, with one section alleging that the celeb tweets reeked of the kind of copy-pasting commonly spotted among poorly planned influencer marketing campaigns.
They have since flooded social media with thousands of posts hash-tagged #SpinelessCelebs and #ShameOnBollywood, among others.
On Sunday, four days into the controversy, Twitter garnered approximately 300 tweets an hour for hashtag #SpinelessCelebs, according to an ET analysis.
“The homogeneity of the tweets has left many fans suspect it was all orchestrated and was perhaps done under some kind of pressure,” says Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of Ormax Media, a celebrity and entertainment content tracking consultancy.
Kapoor notes that fans have expressed greater disappointment with sports stars as people from the entertainment industry have been known to have political aspirations but sportspeople have always been above such things and attained higher credibility and respect for representing the country.
“People expect more integrity from our sportspeople,” says Kapoor.
Incidentally, thousands of users also expressed their joy and relief at former cricketer Rahul Dravid’s absence from Twitter late last week, suggesting that had ‘The Wall’ been on the platform, he may have broken several hearts by tweeting the allegedly orchestrated tweet too.
Thank the lord for small mercies #RahulDravid isn’t on Twitter! I can at least hold on to ONE celebrity crush from my childhood.
— Sinjini (@sinjini_m) 1612370453000
Even as brands steer clear of controversies and prefer endorsers to do the same, Kapoor thinks the event may not have an immediate commercial impact on celebs. This is primarily because no one celebrity is at the heart of the controversy, he says.
A leading celebrity manager who requested anonymity told ET that this episode may lead to some celebrities going off Twitter to not alienate large chunks of their audience, adding that brands may eventually sever ties with celeb endorsers who are continuously in the news for political events.
Active sports players will be able to change the narrative in their favour with one good game though, this person adds.
However, incidents like these will gradually reduce the aura and social power that celebs carry, says Kapoor from Ormax.
“Eventually, people may stop taking celebrities seriously and then their endorsements could take a hit as brands would have to question their credibility,” he says.
Meanwhile, fandom also manifested in positive ways over the last week.
Within a day of Rihanna’s tweet, popular actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh released a Punjabi soundtrack called ‘RiRi’ in praise of the Caribbean star.
Many social media users changed their usernames to some version of “Rihanna stan account” — an online equivalent of wearing your favourite celebrity’s T-shirt in real life.
Communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan created an ongoing Twitter thread collating tweets from celebrities who spoke up against the alleged propaganda.
Instead of focusing on spineless celebrities, let me gather the few brave ones who resist the urge/fear to submit t… https://t.co/t5tZbfAWEa
— Karthik (@beastoftraal) 1612448021000
Like most other controversies, even this has evoked an equal measure of verve and vitriol on social media.