Verifying truths twice: Health care in the age of Whatsapp forwards and Google search

With more than 2 billion users, WhatsApp has regularly been a conduit for fake news and information. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, WhatsApp has become a conduit for fake cures and conspiracy theories about coronavirus.

A plethora of false and unverified information has been spread amidst the global pandemic. Well-intentioned and fearful individuals are forwarding messages with misleading information. The cases range from warnings over made-up extraordinary measures the government might take to keep people in their homes to false numbers of deaths and the levels of preparedness of medical services. These kinds of posts have been shared in private chat groups from Indonesia to Nigeria to India. There has also been dissemination of false theories about  herbal cures and misinformation about the virus.

WhatsApp is different from any other social media because of its privacy. It is a messaging application meant for staying in touch with friends and family. Groups in Whatsapp have no public link and there is no publicly available data on how many exist, who’s in them or what their average size is. WhatsApp is susceptible to misinformation because there are a lot of things that circulate in specific circles of communication which cannot be tracked. Many WhatsApp users rely on it as a primary source of information.

Believing this information may prove to be detrimental. Therefore people are encouraged to verify the facts and then take necessary steps to curb its spread. On 20th March the World Health Organization launched a messaging service with partners WhatsApp and Facebook to keep people safe from misinformation related to COVID-19. This application can be reached easily and enables WHO to get information directly into the hands of the people who need it. The service can be accessed through a link that opens a conversation, prompting a menu of options that can help answer the questions related to coronavirus.

In the high-speed information free-for-all on social media platforms and the internet, everyone can be a publisher. As a result, citizens struggle to discern what is true and what is false. Therefore the onus of keeping WhatsApp clean largely falls on conscientious users reporting fake content to go government and fact-checking organizations. Therefore we urge everyone to stop sharing unverified information on WhatsApp groups and individual chats. These messages are scaring and confusing people and are hazardous during this time of crisis. We also urge people to verify and check any facts that are being circulated before implementing and acting on it.

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