Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Athar Rather
When family WhatsApp groups were created, the only thing they suffocated our lives with were saccharine Good Morning messages.
Fast forward to a few years later, and now, they are a place ripe with conspiracy theories, fake news and propaganda that only gets worse during elections. The ‘news’ that is shared on these WhatsApp groups is often as real as, say, aliens and trickle-down economics. Reading those messages gives you the same level of helplessness that you feel when you see your drunk relative do the naagin dance at a family wedding.
Whatsapp has 200 million users in India right now. Basically, it’s all of you, dear readers, plus your chacha, mama, second, third, fourth cousins and even that uncle you don’t like very much. And here’s the thing that should worry us all: Most Indians can’t distinguish between what’s real and fake on WhatsApp, which becomes even more dangerous for a country like India, where we still believe that a black cat crossing our path is an ominous thing.
Ever wondered where this could possibly be stemming from? Well, turns out WhatsApp propaganda is a well-crafted strategy by political parties to influence people to get them to vote. Sometimes it is by exaggerating their own achievements, sometimes by spreading falsehoods about rival candidates, and sometimes by instilling hatred against other communities.
For the Karnataka elections, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress together set up 50,000 WhatsApp groups between them. One message by either of these political parties can now reach out to millions in less than a few seconds. For perspective guys, it takes longer to turn on a tube light!
Fake news has caused mob violence and lynching in India, and that’s no joking matter. Although their terms of service do forbid hate speech, threats of violence and false statements, WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, which means they can't exactly read or check all the sh*t that's being written on their platform. It’s like letting people enter a club without any checking, and then saying, “Oh people can even bring guns to the club, we never though of that”.
Fake It Till You Make it?
Around the time of Karnataka elections, a video was circulated that showed a Muslim Congress candidate with the accompanying message that he’s promised ‘unending bloodshed of Hindus…if he comes to power’. The news was a 100 percent fake, yet it travelled all over WhatsApp and other social media.
Sometimes our fake news beats even the authenticity of Bollywood action movies.
For example this news, that a Pakistani flag was waved at a North Belgaum rally. Dearest Bittu uncle who shared this, every white and green flag isn't that of Pakistan.
But try telling your mom that the news she just shared with you is fake. She will respond by saying that the only real news in the khandaan is that her aulad is such a nalayak! On second thoughts, the unending, overtly cheesy Good Morning messages of relatives seem better than all this fake propaganda, to be honest. So rishtedaars, keep them coming, even though these messages have apparently given Silicon Valley many sleepless nights!
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