New Delhi: The Mumbai police have apparently identified over 80,000 fake accounts that were created on various social media platforms after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput with the intent to ‘discredit’ the city police and the Maharashtra government.
According to the Hindustan Times, the Mumbai police’s cyber unit has compiled a report in which it says social media posts with hashtags like #justiceforsushant and #SSR were uploaded from countries like Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, Romania and France.
Automated bots are regularly used to inflate traffic surrounding hashtags, a practice aimed at gaming Twitter’s trending topics. ‘Foreign’ accounts are regularly used in this practice, even though the social media giant insists it has preventive measures in place to prevent coordinated campaigns.
“We identified the posts in foreign languages because of the hashtags used like #justiceforsushant #sushantsinghrajput and #SSR. We’re in the process of verifying more accounts,” said a senior IPS officer told the newspaper.
The report also says that the Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh has asked the cyber cell to investigate the alleged fake accounts and register cases under the Information Technology Act.
“The campaign was run against Mumbai police just to demoralise us at a time when 84 policemen had died due to the pandemic and over 6,000 men were infected with the virus. This was a motivated campaign with vested interest just to malign the image of Mumbai police and derail our line of investigation,” he told HT.
He said multiple fake accounts were created on social media to target the Mumbai police with “abusive tones”.
The Mumbai police had begun investigating the case and ruled the actor’s death a suicide. The Bihar police registered a case against the actor’s partner Rhea Chakraborty, after Rajput’s family members accused her of murder and abetment of suicide. Many, including actor Kangana Ranaut, cast doubts on the Mumbai police’s ability to properly investigate the case.
It was in this context that a social media campaign began, demanding justice for Rajput. The Mumbai police cyber cell’s report says that automated bots or foreign accounts were used to populate the hashtags.
The case was eventually taken over by the CBI, which is investigating the case.
Study finds BJP hyped up conspiracy theories
A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan found that members of the BJP played a role in amping up conspiracy theories related to the actor’s death. It looked at social media trends, handles, patterns and the tweets of politicians, influencers, journalists and media houses between June 14 (the day Rajput died) and September 12, and found that members of the BJP and pro-BJP handles cranked up the rumour mill, and were behind the troll attacks on the Mumbai police, the Maharashtra government and many Bollywood actors.
“The data show an important role played by politicians, especially the BJP, in proposing a ‘murder’ alternative to the ‘suicide’ narrative. There was a real opportunity to address mental health and depression early in news cycle, but the stories quickly devolved to allusive concoctions,” it says.
It says the Mumbai police was trolled heavily “by various stakeholders, but particularly BJP politicians”. The Maharashtra government was also targeted, the study says. “The attack on the police was used as a bridge into attacking the state cabinet, beginning with #AnilDeshmukhSavingSSRKillers (the home minister), #MahaGovtExposed, and eventually Aditya Thackeray, who is already one of the most trolled politicians in India,” the study says.
The BJP has also been accused of trying to gain political mileage out of the actor’s death. Rajput was from Bihar, where an election is due later this month.
On Saturday, a six-member team of AIIMS’s forensic doctors ruled out the possibility that Rajput was murdered, saying he died by suicide.
Reacting to this report, Mumbai police commissioner Singh said that his police had investigated the case very professionally. “The CBI had created a panel of AIIMS doctors who have justified our investigation and the findings of Cooper hospital and forensic laboratory. Except for a few people, nobody else was aware of our investigation still many have criticised the investigation,” he told Hindustan Times.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.