Stop Forwarding WhatsApp Messages. Just… Stop

How did a video produced in one country as a public service announcement create fears about kidnapping in another? In India, at least 24 persons have been mobbed to death since April on the suspicion that they were part of a gang kidnapping children. A 65-year old woman and four of her family members were lynched on their way to a temple.

The hysteria was fuelled by a video that originated from Pakistan (India’s neighbors) but was edited and shared widely via WhatsApp. There are at least 250 million users of the Facebook-owned social media platform in India meaning that one in four persons in the country use the platform.

Imagine how you receive broadcast messages frequently from the groups to which you belong, and how often some of these are replicated especially when they are sensational. Because of its ease of use for sending virtually anything, more communication is being done via WhatsApp. Unfortunately, there is also too much misinformation going around, everything from audio recordings of ‘prophecies’ to all kinds of gory videos of supposed killings.

It helps that we can be more connected with such platforms and it is good the Nigerian government does not plan to impose any obnoxious taxes for using them. But good use depends on individual responsibility, care and vigilance. The unsupervised, uncensored nature of social media requires that everyone has screens and filters for every kind of news, as far as there is no direct intention to cause harm by spreading falsehood. As the India case does show, technology can be used to manipulate audio and visual content. Hence, it is all right to do due diligence before forwarding any message you receive to those on your contacts list.

Better still, do not forward any messages. If you must send a message you have received to another person, do the hard work of reading through and provide confirmation to your receiver that you have read all of its content. Maybe with that extra responsibility, our phones will have longer battery lives. If you don’t get such provisos from people who send you broadcast messages, ask them if they have read through the message they have sent and can confirm its source.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, WhatsApp is not a place for anonymous trolls. There are now limits to the number of messages you can forward, they have removed the “quick forward” button next media messages and forwarded messages will come with a lable. Still, let your contacts know that you are meticulous with what you receive. You should know what tool to employ, hammer or cane, when bcc merchants on your list have no credible response to your request for verification.

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