A few days back, I received the following WhatsApp message from a friend who is in her late forties:
In a few seconds, I’ll forward a ‘joke’ to you. The ‘joke’ itself is so disgusting, it makes my blood boil! What’s unbelievable is this ‘joke’ was sent to me and to other female friends of similar age by Sheila.
IMPORTANT: Please ensure Sheila doesn’t get to know that I sent you this crap and told you that she had sent it to me.
As promised, she forwarded the ‘joke’ to me a few seconds later:
Son: Dad, yesterday, I saved a girl from being raped. :-) :-)
Dad: Good! That’s my boy! How did you do that?
Son: I convinced her! ;-) ;-) ;-)
I was shocked! Sheila is the mother of a 22-year-old daughter. She had forwarded this ‘joke’ to women who are all in their forties or fifties and who have young daughters and/or daughters-in-law.
I don’t know whether the other recipients of this ‘joke’ enjoyed it or whether it made their blood boil. But I just couldn’t digest the fact that Sheila had forwarded it. I do not know her well, but I am acquainted with her. From my limited interaction with her, I had found her to be a sensible and well-mannered person, definitely not the kind of person who would have circulated this ‘joke’. I was itching to telephone her and ask her for an explanation, but I couldn’t do that due to the last line of my friend’s first message.
I think that Sheila either forwarded the ‘joke’ without really understanding it or without reading it, thinking she was doing something ‘cool’. In either case, she was being extremely irresponsible. Rape is definitely not a subject to be joked about.
A day later, I read this Firstpost report that “Karnataka Health Minister UT Khader has asked the District Health Officer of Dakshina Kannada to lodge a complaint with the cyber cell police in Bangalore against persons spreading rumours on social media claiming Ebola virus had entered the city.
Some people had spread a WhatsApp message last month that a student had died at the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka (NITK) at Suratkal, near Mangalore, after being infected with the Ebola virus, even after the doctors treating him confirmed that he died of lung disease.
Khader directed DHO HS Shivakumar to file a complaint to bring to book the pranksters who misused technology to create panic and confusion, officials here said.”
I completely support Mr. Khader’s action, provided it is not misused by the police or by politicians. In fact, I think concrete steps must be taken to control indiscriminate circulation of misinformation and/or insensitive ‘jokes’.
I believe in freedom of expression. I also believe that freedom of expression carries with it the responsibility to avoid creating problems for others.
The fact that it costs nothing to send a WhatsApp message doesn’t mean one can circulate any crap!
Let’s not forget the name is WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!