With more than 2 billion users, WhatsApp has regularly been a conduit for fake news and misinformation, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp has become a conduit for fake cures and conspiracy theories about coronavirus.
A new report from Yahoo explains that misinformation regarding the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic has been spreading like wildfire on WhatsApp, in Canada and worldwide, unbeknownst to most of the population.
Traffic on WhatsApp has spiked since users have been turning to social media to keep in touch with relatives and friends. But the messaging app has also been a vehicle for hoaxes over alleged dramatic situations in hospitals and videos claiming that the virus had been created in a laboratory — or did not exist at all.
“First the conspiracy theories popped up regarding how China had created the virus in a lab, then it jumped to how governments were trying to control people, and now we’re at the stage where videos of cures are being shared by thousands of users,” reads the report.
One of the main issues is that everyone who is messaging on the app generally already has a modicum of trust with the user they’re contacting. A reliable cue is the source: many successful pieces of fake news circulating on WhatsApp about Covid-19 start with “A friend who has an uncle in Wuhan” or “A friend whose dad works at the Centre for Disease Control.”
“With WhatsApp you’re contacting people who are almost exclusively in your phone book, they’re people you trust… they’re friends, colleagues and extended family and onwards, you’ve got everyone there,” said Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, a senior consultant with Crestview Strategy.
According to Hundal, the fallacy some less advanced users fall into is the idea that everything on the internet must be true.
“People trust too easily what comes into their phone from a friend, and they shouldn’t do that, they should do a quick google search and establish facts with a reputable news organization,” he said.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp has appeared to step up its efforts to ensure that its users can get verified information. The World Health Organization has launched a Health Alert in partnership with WhatsApp that has the potential to reach all its users and provide the latest news on coronavirus, which sets up an individual conversation which helps users have their questions answered. WhatsApp has also issued extensive guidelines on how to use the service healthily, and how it is bringing people together during the crisis.