3 June 2020 09:26 AM

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RASHMI OBEROI | 21 MARCH, 2020

The ‘Other’ Endemic

The overly zealous WhatsApp user who is spreading misinformation


As the world battles with a pandemic, we have another grave problem to combat with every minute of the day… The overly zealous WhatsApp user who is spreading not only misinformation bordering on absolute gobbledygook but wrongful facts and fake news… Unfortunately these lead to serious consequences when people believe the mumbo-jumbo and implement it.

We really need to curb/stop and maybe even fine these digitally enthusiastic painful members on the app. Among many WhatsApp users, the culture of group chats has become both somewhat of a joke and a headache, with frequent complaints about being bombarded by messages and forwards 24x7. How do these people even have the time to indulge in this craziness? The worst are the ones that are vociferous in their political, religious and ideological stands that are truly repulsive.

Every time, there is a calamity in our country, our WhatsApp brigade goes berserk. They come out with their own theories and ‘breaking news’ pieces and of course unsolicited advice. The spread of rumours has always led to mayhem and catastrophes.

As the case is right before our eyes at this very moment and provides an example of how, as the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, a wildfire of false and unverified information about the pandemic is following in its wake. On private messaging services like WhatsApp, well-intentioned individuals are forwarding messages with misleading or doctored information. Well-intentioned? Really! Other cases range from warnings over made-up extraordinary measures governments might take to keep people in their homes to false numbers of deaths and the level of preparedness of medical services. People have really gone mad and the same nonsensical message is sent by not one, not two but numerous users. And they go on and on…

Do people even try to read and understand what they are forwarding and bombarding others with? There is so much digital misinformation that it is scary – like the pattern that involves people claiming to share insider information with friends and family that they’ve gained access to. These messages are scaring and confusing people and causing real damage.

All users who have that smart phone in their hand need to be answerable and held accountable for the rubbish they forward. Users need to check the facts online before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them as these lead to misinformation spreading amid anxiety about the coronavirus.

Upon analysing users it was evaluated that people who are less aware of news are more prone to forwarding fake news. When asked why they forward a message in the first place, they said that they don't want to keep any information to themselves in case it is true and affects people they know. People in India have been sharing fake news stories with nationalistic messages for 'nation building' purposes, with the consolidation of national identity taking precedence over the need to fact-check a story. Unfortunately, WhatsApp’s efforts will do little to stem the flow of false news as it fails to address the unique nature of its platform. It is not considered typical social media, as its platform is not public.

There are simple things that people can do: check the authenticity…Messages with the ‘Forwarded’ label help you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message or if it originally came from someone else. If you're not sure who wrote the original message, double check the facts. Check photos and media carefully as photos, audio recordings, and videos can be edited to mislead you. Look at trusted news sources to see if the story is being reported elsewhere. When a story is reported in multiple places, it's more likely to be true. Many messages or website links you receive containing hoaxes or fake news have spelling mistakes. Look for these signs so you can check if the information is accurate. Watch out for information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs and review the facts before sharing information. Stories that seem hard to believe are often untrue. Even if a message is shared many times, this doesn’t make it true. Please do not forward a message because the sender is urging you to do so. If you see something that's fake, tell the person that sent it to you and ask them to verify information before they share it. If a group or a contact is constantly sending fake news, report them. If you're still not sure if a message is true, search online for facts and check trusted news sites to see where the story came from. If you still have doubts, ask fact-checkers or people you trust.

Check…check and recheck… Because at this moment my phone has about 42 messages and only a few are worth reading. The forwards are a piece of work…it amazes me that people have time to sit and write/record/make up utter baloney and then forward them on to the gullible ones who will lap it up in seconds.

While the coronavirus pandemic cannot be taken lightly and we all need to do our bit to ensure it doesn’t spread, we must also do our best to use our grey matter more and ensure the constant drivel being pushed into our faces via forwards is rightfully put in its place – the trash bin!

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