A guide to keeping the family Whatsapp group fake news-free

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Dear members of the family Whatsapp group

We hope this message finds you well. Don’t worry – this is not another flood of good morning or motivational messages. We just want to have a chat about those random messages and voice notes that keep getting forwarded to the group. This lovely group, which we love and value – and we want to pause here to thank Aunty M, for setting it up and inviting all 35 of our cousins –  started with good intentions to arrange a family reunion. And it’s definitely brought us all closer into each other’s business.  

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But we have talk about some of the messages. You know the ones – those messages that have been shared on several groups and which you feel is your duty to forward to the family group. It’s those random voice notes warning us of the imminent doom and gloom set to descend upon us if we don’t listen – or forward the message ourselves. Thank you for your concern. We honestly love that you’re worried about our safety. But the problem is that many of those messages aren’t exactly true. 

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There was the one message that said South Africa was running out of sugar supplies during the lockdown. Then there were the ones about how the coronavirus was one big conspiracy. Let me not get started on the forwarded messages – those extremely long messages which even have a “Read More” option. It’s like a Whatsapp thesis. It’s long and I wonder if anyone manages to read to the end of those messages. 

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But the length of those messages is besides the point –  I mean, we hope everyone is actually reading a message in its entirety before forwarding it. Reading the message will allow you to actually find out what is being said. A lot of the time the message might actually be outdated or it is actually just plain and simple fake news. Ooh yes, the dreaded fake news – it’s not just a conspiracy. There is a ton of fake news being spread around everyday and Whatsapp is actually one of the biggest distributing platforms. The app has actually been working actively to stop and prevent the spreading of fake news. But no amount of software changes will help if we, the members of this family group, don’t actively stop sharing these messages. 

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Also there could possibly be legal repercussions for the admins of groups if fake news is being shared. We don’t want to be tell-tales here but just know there are laws around sharing fake news.  And we really, really don’t want to get Aunty M into any trouble. 

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy being in the group – the mute for one year function is quite handy. But we’ve actually done the difficult work of trying to figure out how to fight fake news on Whatsapp. This way we can go back to Whatsapp being a place where we share the latest skinner and motivational posters with pictures of the sun rising over the ocean. So there’s actually one really easy way to tackle fake news on Whatsapp and it’s proudly South African.

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It’s called “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” and best of all you can get all the information directly on Whatsapp. It’s basically a show where they aim to fight misinformation on the platform. So the next time, you are forwarded that message that seems a little dodgy, you can verify it before sharing it. Send it to “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” and they’ll do the difficult work of verifying and debunking the information. The platform is brought to you by Africa Check, Volume and the International Fact-Checking Network.

Another really simple way to find out if the information you’re sharing is factual is Google. Yes, we know you all are using Whatsapp on your phones and guess what there’s also a search engine on your phone. Just Google the information you’ve been sent before forwarding it. It’s so simple. Or else ask someone before sharing. Better yet ask the person who sent you the information to verify it before they share it. 

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Ultimately what we’re trying to do here is to make us all smarter. After all, what happens on Whatsapp never stays on Whatsapp. Instead, someone else is going to decide they need to forward this and this information just snowballs to many different places. While some of the information might be helpful and not fake, it’s better to always check first before sending. 

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But most importantly, think before you press forward! And maybe we should just go back to sharing our baby pictures.

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Featured image via Wikicommons

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