A Boon Turns Dangerous Tool

unnamedWHAT APPEARS TO BE AN INNOCENT PASTIME OR A COMMUNICATION TOOL, CAN POSE DANGERS. WhatsApp has more than a billion users all over the world, Most ‘smart phone’ users are busy checking messages almost all through the day and till late into night and forwarding most of them, taking up a lot of time and resulting in loss of productivity.

This, however, is not the only danger it poses to civil society. Hate messages, fake news, inflammatory information that can lead to violence, can now be spread to millions of people within an hour, if not in minutes. Pictures, videos and voice can go across the world within seconds. And all that at no cost.

Much of Narendra Modi’s success in the last Parliamentary  election can be  attributed to WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms which his party used very effectively.  The recent event of demonetization was made out to be a major disaster by the Opposition  leading to a bitter, personal attack on the Prime Minister, but lakhs of WhatsApp messages going around the country supported his action. And this was reflected in elections that followed.

Every mobile phone user now is not only on WhatsApp but also in several groups. If you live in an apartment complex, there is a WA group of residents. Then you have a friends group, a professional or office group, a family group and a community group. As migration has become very common, you have a group of people from the same town living in another and of the linguistic community if staying in another state.

While this makes spread of information very fast, it means rumours can also be spread fast. It is also leading to people not having a personal contact for long periods and deterioration in inter-personal interaction skills. You can avoid meeting and communicate by WA even with people living close by, or in the same house. The sociological implications of this need to be studied.

WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook are becoming the primary source of news,  rather than newspapers, for a very large number of people. While journalists, at least in theory, have to check, authenticate and source their news and interpret it in proper perspective, those spreading it on WhatsApp have no such obligation and are also not trained for it. The consequences   can be grave.

Ms.Tanseem Akolawala wrote on NDTV site ‘Gadgets360*’ about ‘WhatsApp Video Calling Fake Invites Leading Users to Malicious Sites’. As the news of the video calling rollout hit the Web, many users started receiving and sharing an unverified link on WhatsApp, claimed to be an invite link to activate WhatsApp video calling.

“Please note that the invite link that has gone viral on WhatsApp is fake, and clicking it could potentially expose your smartphone to harmful attacks. she wrote. Clicking on the link will lead to another page that will ask you to invite more friends on WhatsApp.

“Notably, it even mentions the existence of group WhatsApp video calling – something that doesn’t officially yet exist on the platform – perhaps as a lure for users who may want that extra feature. The site appears to be a phishing one that seeks user details, and may possibly also provide a download of a malicious app,” Ms Tanseem warns.

There is a bigger danger. WhatsApp is instrument-based and not based on mobile number. That is, if the instrument is with someone else – stolen of given away – without the original sim, it will still receive the WhatsApp messages and emails it was getting earlier. Messages from that mobile will be shown as received from the original owner.

Some WA  messages from a young relative in the national capital puzzled me (picture above and box in red below). He was not particularly religious and certainly had nothing to do with Islam. Was someone or a new girlfriend from another community trying to radicalise him?  The WA messages bore his name.

Today it was a message to protest against an anti-Muslim film or a fatwa from Muslim Judicial Council. I have nothing against both. Anyone from that community was free to send them. But tomorrow it may be a call for some militant action or some hate message.

Concerned, I made enquiries and he said he never sent those messages. He had changed his mobile handset recently and was also using another SIM. So someone else was sending them in his name from his old phone, which has a WhatsApp link with mine. If something untoward happens and a police enquiry starts, the messages in his name will be found.

  •                                                                      ————————-
  •  Breaking news Jammu and Kashmir

Film “786”ke Naam se Holland me ek movie bani hai jisme Nabi-e-karim
<sallallahu alaihi wasallam> ka mazaaq banaya gaya hai jisko hum 1 arab
60 crore muslims mil kar rok sakte hai apna kuch waqt nikaal kar is msg ko
tamaam logo ko Fwd karo taaki kal (Baargahe -ilaahi) me sharminda na hona
pade jab allah sawaal karega ke mere habib ka jab mazak banaya gaya to tum
ne kya kiya ? plz plz Pls fwd this msg to all muslims...


There are undesirable elements on both sides though one is more prominent today. Tomorrow using the same technique  and a former  Muslim user’s WhatsApp account, messages can be sent by Hindu communal elements that can spread ill-will.

Keeping the name of the original writer, date and time with every message/photo/video is therefore essential.

This is  an urgent issues that needs to be addressed by WhatsApp and Facebook.which owns it.


Published by

B. Someswar Rao

60 years of journalism, from the age of 16, and two books later, life has so much more to offer, there is no looking back. Not yet. Unstoppable after 70 is a simple expression of my thoughts, my triumphs, my failures and everything that makes this journey incredible. My books: - A TOWN CALLED PENURY- the changing culture of Indian journalism - JOURNALISM - Ethics, Codes, Laws Working on: - 'THE OUTHOUSE ON THE FIRST FLOOR - Coming of (Old)Age in India'

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