Of the many stories I grew up listening to, this has been playing on my mind for some time now. As a moral and ethical dilemma grips the post-modern, tech-driven world of music in the country, the story of a village singer suddenly rings true.
A sangeet-visharad (master exponent of music) in a village ends a long classical music recital one evening, only to find one man sitting in the audience. Overhwelmed, the singer walks up to him and thanks him for his interest in classical music and for being the only one who appreciated his singing. The yawning “connoisseur” tells the singer he was from the shop that rented out the stage accessories. And that he was waiting for his singing to get over so that he can pack. The singer went home, crestfallen.
That was a time gone by. A time when claps and cheers and calls for an encore from the audience were measures of an artiste’s popularity, determining his future. Cut to the new millennium. It now depends on whether they “like” the performance.
One may not like it, but it’s all about “likes”.
Yes, the pun was intended. As rapper Badshah realized it recently, accused of indulging in a “crime” that was unheard of – “buying likes,” in an apparent bid to boost his popularity.
And, it’s no more the proverbial eggs and tomatoes being hurled on stage for a bad performance. It’s the memes – searing, scathing and unforgiving — that begin to float online, on every social media platform, retweeted and shared a million times, which have the power to pull an artiste down.
Why is Badshah facing the music?
On August 8, Mumbai Mirror reported that the rapper paid a company Rs 72 lakh in exchange of 72 million fake views for his 2019 song ‘Paagal’. The song registered 75 million views in 24 hours when it released last year.
On August 9, Badshah was questioned by Mumbai Police for over nine hours in connection with a probe into a possible racket in creating and selling fake social media ‘followers,’ ‘views’ and ‘likes’. Police began the probe after singer Bhumi Trivedi complained that someone had created her fake profile on social media. While probing this, police unearthed a racket which creates fake social media profiles and sells fake followers and likes to celebrities and social media influencers.
The reason? A celebrity or social media influencer can command a higher price for online brand endorsement if he or she has a larger number of followers and likes.
Mumbai Police officials said at least 54 cyber firms that create and sell fake followers are now under the scanner.
Though Badshah denied the allegations and said “… (I have) made it clear that I was never involved in such practices,” a tsunami of memes swept cyberspace as soon as the rapper was questioned by the police.
Using a scene from ‘Sacred Games’, one of the memes said: “#Badshah bought 7.2 crore views for 72 lakhs. His fans asking him why he did that.” To this, the meme-maker quotes a dialogue by Nawazuddin Siddique who played gangster Ganesh Gaitonde: Apun ko zindagi mai kuch daring karna thha.
Another meme said “#Badshah to everyone rn:” and used screenshot of a scene from a film where Pankaj Tripathi tells a neighbour: Dukaan jama raha thha, aap log aake berozgar kar diye.
A meme had Sanjay Dutt from ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ with the line: “#Badshah after buying fake views on YouTube” and used his dialogue: Haan apun cheating kiya. Tere ko jo karna hai karle.
Meme-makers also used punchlines of stand-up comedians. One such meme said: “Badshah after promoting his songs and increasing his followers by spending 72 lakh rupees on social media, and getting caught: BC itnaa NAAM bhi nahi krna tha.”
Using a photo of a huge stadium stand with just one spectator, a memer captioned it “his followers,” after these lines – “#Badshah: I’m the most followed Indian singer of Instagram.”
For the police and India’s legal fraternity, it was a puzzle as they tried to determine criminality of the act. While Bhumi Trivedi’s case involved creation of fake profile of the singer — thereby making it a case of impersonation, a criminal offence – there may not be a specific law to deal with cases involving buying and selling of fake likes and followers.
Supreme Court advocate and cyber law expert Karnika Seth told a newspaper: “Since a fake account is an electronic record that can be used to misrepresent, one could book a person.” Seth was referring to Section 468 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with committing forgery of a document or electronic record for cheating.