A few days ago, I received a forwarded message in one of the WhatsApp groups I am part of. The message was about how Islam came into existence and it was very clear that it was a fake post as it was related to Surpanakha, a mythological character in Ramayan.
There are many cases of lynching, murders, communal riots and rumours that originated from WhatsApp forwards. Last month, two people were lynched in Tamil Nadu over a hoax WhatsApp message.
In May itself, a man was lynched in Telangana, again over a WhatsApp message. There have been many instances where a fake WhatsApp message has led to communal violence. Such forwards have also ignited racism, regionalism, communalism and many such ideologies that hurt peaceful societal structure.
Remember post demonetisation, there were these messages doing rounds on how the new Rs 2,000 notes have this chip that can help curb corruption? Or the messages which said that RBI has stopped the use of coins of Rs 10 denomination, post which no shopkeeper, rickshaw driver or bus conductor refused to accept the coins. You must have also received this message somewhere during Valentine’s Day that our freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were martyred on that day. Some people believed it too, not bothering to actually check if it was true.
These are just a few examples and there are countless fake or hoax messages that are doing rounds on WhatsApp. People from all walks of life today have a smart phone and social media has now become an integral part of our lives. Early this year, WhatsApp claimed to have its largest user base in India crossing 200 million daily users.
Most of the fake or hoax messages are spread by people having political inclinations, grudge or desire for revenge against a person, to spread rumours, communal divide or any such nasty intention. And we tend to believe these forwards. We do not realise that nature of these forwards is provocative and will direct you to further forwarding it.
This mostly happens when the forwarded message matches up to our political or religious ideology, we tend to believe it. Sometimes, the forwards comes from a reliable source or from a person we trust,it affects our mindset as well. Remember, anyone can fall for fake messages.
Now this, multiplies the forwards and on WhatsApp, one cannot track the number of users the message has reached to, be it 1,000 or one million. Since WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, one also cannot find the source from where the message originated. While doing research for this article, I came across this quote from a cyber expert, “WhatsApp is the biggest media platform in India and it has a medium of mass consumption with lack of traceability.”
WhatsApp has been claiming since long that they have been trying to tackle the of spread of fake messages. However, it doesn’t look like they have been successful in doing so. A few months ago, a tech portal had reported that Facebook-owned ‘WhatsApp seems to be testing out notifications that alert users if they receive a message that has been forwarded many times or if they are about to forward one of these messages themselves.’ But recently, it was reported that the company has dropped the plan of introducing this notification feature.
Ahead of 2019 polls, Facebook has apparently hired a fact checking website, ‘Boom Live’ to verify news generated in India. Not to forget, social media played a major role in 2014 general elections.
Now, what you as a responsible social media user can do, is to avoid falling for such forwards. Before forwarding a message, be critical about it. Check the authenticity of the message. As simple as Google search can help you to check the facts. Do not let such messages provoke you. Most importantly, use your common sense. Don’t just be literate, be educated. Also, don’t just stop here, educate others too.