In the last few months, about thirty people in India have lost their lives in lynchings by mobs. None of them, however, were criminals. The mobsters were misguided by numerous widely circulated messages on WhatsApp which claimed the victims were kidnappers. The Facebook-owned messaging service, which has over 200 million users in India, has been since then at the center of a multitude of controversies and is aggressively exploring new ways to curb the fake news wildfire including radio campaigns, research grants, and more.
While that was possibly the most extreme fallout of WhatsApp’s spam troubles, there are a host of other consequences fake news can have. They could influence you politically, lead you to a malicious website, deceive you into believing an inaccurate statistic, and more. In addition to a handful of recently rolled out features and tips, there are ways you can easily spot fake news on WhatsApp. Here are seven of them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say forwards are one of the root causes for spreading fake news. After all, it is responsible for facilitating the distribution. WhatsApp is clearly aware of that and now labels forwarded messages. Therefore, we would recommend taking messages which are forwarded with a grain of salt because more often than not, they are being circulated without a second thought. In India especially, WhatsApp plays the role of a gossip mill and being at the forefront of fueling them is considered a badge of honor. And what better way to achieve the latter than transmit misinformation as facts. So always perceive the forward label as simply a red flag.
WhatsApp is also a hub of cons who specifically design messages to dupe you into opening an insecure and malicious link. The trick is to make the pitch and URL seem harmless at first glance. The way it’s normally done is with the help of special characters and address spoofing. Fortunately, this is no longer a worry on WhatsApp since the messaging app now throws a warning whenever it detects such links. Even if it’s shared by a friend or someone you know, you should probably inquire about its content before clicking.
Verify with Other Sources
Ever since WhatsApp’s messaging platform began struggling with the rise of fake news, a fleet of startups has spawned to monitor the veracity of viral content. These websites are updated regularly to keep up the constant stream of information on WhatsApp. There’s Verify.Wiki which along with hosting details of the latest growing forward, also lets you submit new ones. SM Hoax-Slayer and Check4Spam are two other such sites to check whether the shocking news or image you just received is true. The Times of India also has a dedicated Facebook page where it discusses new fake news topics.
A large chunk of false information on WhatsApp simply involves boasting a set of numbers for purposes such as political propaganda or some quick did-you-know trivia. Before being blown away by them, though, it’s best if you head over official websites or Wikipedia pages to fact-check those statistics.
Report and Exit Toxic Groups
You’re only as informed as your WhatsApp group. A wise man might have not said that but it is true. Being a member of a group that allows and circulates misinformation is unhealthy and when you come across a fake message on it, you should immediately head for the exit button. And while you’re at it, you should report it as well. The option is situated at the bottom of a group or contact’s profile page.
Ignore Bulk Messages
If there’s a message you’ve been receiving from multiple channels and contacts, there’s a good chance it’s a hoax. Bulk messages usually tend to serve a goal which in most scenarios, is to rile up users against or for something. Refer to the aforementioned points in case you have trouble judging their authenticity.
Photos and Videos are Easy to Manipulate. Tread Carefully.
We’re sure you’re familiar with counterfeit media on WhatsApp. With minor edits, images and videos can cause substantial damage. The lynchings in India were the result of a modified child safety advertisement from Pakistan which was spread along with false claims across the country. Therefore, if you’re unsure of a picture or clip on WhatsApp, consult someone else or visit the fact-checking websites before believing it.
While WhatsApp is taking a flurry of steps towards mending its fake news predicaments, it will be a while before it comes up with a permanent solution. One of the updates it released prevented Indians from forwarding a message to more than five contacts but there’s clearly a way around it. Even sharing a piece of misinformation to five large groups can wreak havoc. Therefore, it’s best if you, the user, becomes more aware and educated on how to spot fake news on WhatsApp.