The fast and fatal ‘fake news’ that we forward on our WhatsApp groups mindlessly

using wats app on phone

The menace of fake news

The neighbourhood fruit seller was looking exceptionally dull that day. It felt like my lucky day and I gave him a bigger smile anticipating less bargaining (since he looked so dull!). But things were far more serious than what I had thought and I sensed it when I asked him how much the apples cost.

“De do madam, jo dena hai,” he had said rather nonchalantly.

“Kya hua bhaiya? Tabiyat theek hai?” I asked him because we share a bond. Every morning, I go to his shop and we haggle about the prices of apples and pomegranate, and between all this, we often discuss politics, social values and even growing “mehengai”. So when he surrendered without a fight, I felt alarmed. And hurt.

Then he explained that another customer who was there some ten minutes ago had told him how “an Indian woman in Australia killed her husband by giving him crushed apple seeds”.

“A few days ago, news of bats spreading some deadly disease had completely ruined my business. Now this news about apples will again hit the sales.”

Apparently, the lady had received a WhatsApp message asking people to eat apples “very, very carefully” since it contains cyanide. I would be lying if I said that this piece of news didn’t affect me. But I kept my brave face and rushed back to check if the news was actually true. The lady had definitely killed her husband but she had ‘added’ cyanide in his orange juice and apple juice still doesn’t contain any cyanide. Phew!

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Few care to authenticate the received forwards

Fake news
Woman reading digital fake news

But I know not many people would check the authenticity of such news because believing is so much easier than cross checking. It takes a minute to believe and half a second to send it forward, whereas researching takes so much time, energy and effort.

Which is why our national anthem has been awarded the “best national anthem in the world” by the UN, Frooti has been “injected with AIDS virus by a resentful worker” and of course, Kurkure has plastic! Every second day, we all get messages about missing children and how we should forward the message to reunite the family. There are instances where beggers with fairly fair babies in their hands are clicked “for their alleged role in child trafficking”. Being aware is very important but being this naïvely vigilante is not just a problem but a nuisance.

More than 20 people have been lynched in India after being accused of child abduction in the last two months, according to media reports. Do I need to add that these reports were circulated on our very own WhatsApp groups.

Now fake health advice forwards too

In fact, India comes first when it comes to sending ‘Good morning’ forwards and the ‘Help this child’ messages. A recent report by a leading newspaper in India states that another area that is badly misinformed is health and medical news. So, while we were still shocked about Bollywood actor Sonali Bendre’s cancer news, this another forward started doing rounds that everyone should keep their chests covered with dupatta since that is the only way to prevent breast cancer. And because the starters of this message felt that its authenticity might be questioned, they made sure that they added “issued by Tata Memorial hospital in public interest”.

The same report also talked about another fake news doing rounds that “80% pregnant women die during delivery because of swelling of their uterus walls caused by washing their heads in the early days of their menstrual cycle”. Forgive me this cliché but every time I read these messages that reek of orthodoxy I imagine a group of old grannies sitting together and fabricating these messages, since we don’t listen to their age-old warnings.

And because we refuse to change or refrain, the company has decided to take matters in its own hands. To curb this spread of rumours and fake news, WhatsApp has announced that it will limit forwarding of messages to five chats at once, in India. And no, this piece of information was not received as a WhatsApp forward but the company has announced in an official statement recently. So go ahead and believe it, but in case you still have your doubts, please google the news. It will not harm anyone and we will be delighted too!

(From the editor’s desk)

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