WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!

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!

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Look before you leap!

Yesterday, I received the following email forward, which has also been circulating on WhatsApp:

SUB: TRUE STORY ABOUT RACISM

I’m sure many of you watched the recent taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show where her guest was Tommy Hilfiger. On the show, she asked him if the statements about race he was accused of saying were true. Statements like “If I’d known African-Americans, Hispanics, Jewish and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice. I wish these people would not buy my clothes, as they are made for upper class white people.”

His answer to Oprah was a simple “YES”, where after she immediately asked him to leave her show.

There is a suggestion emerging from this incident – Don’t buy your next shirt or perfume from Tommy Hilfiger.
Let’s give him what he asked for. Let’s not buy his clothes, let’s put him in a financial state where he himself will not be able to afford the ridiculous prices he puts on his clothes. BOYCOTT TOMMY HILFIGER. Stop buying any range of their products like perfumes, cosmetics, clothes, bags, etc.
Let’s pass this message to non-white people and see the result of unity. Let’s find out if we ‘Non-Whites’ really do play such a small part in the world.

If you are against racism, please spread this message to all your like-minded friends.

I was pretty sure that this was a piece of fiction, but for some reason, I decided to find out more about this matter. I searched for Oprah Winfrey Tommy Hilfiger on Google.

Memorable Guests Follow-Ups on oprah.com says:
“For more than 10 years a vicious rumor has circulated about Oprah and clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger. When it first surfaced, Oprah went on the air to deny the rumor and to say that he’d never even been on the show, and the rumor seemed to die.

But recently it has found new life on the Internet.”

After reproducing an email forward very similar to the one I received, the text of Oprah interviewing Tommy Hilfiger has been presented, in which Tommy Hilfiger states that, prior to the ongoing interview, he has never been on The Oprah Winfrey Show and he would never say such a thing. Fortunately for him, his friends, family and people who work with him did not believe the rumour.

It is not known who started this rumour and why. It is also not known to what extent Tommy Hilfiger’s business business was affected by this rumour.

Email, WhatsApp and SMS are often used to spread true information, jokes, etc.. However, sometimes they are used to spread rumours, like the one about Tommy Hilfiger, which is totally fictitious, or like The Tale of the Arab, which has facts twisted slightly to paint a completely different picture of the truth. These rumours could have an adverse impact on the organisations or groups which they target, but damage control is possible.

However, there could be situations where ordinary people are badly affected by rumours which are spread by emails, WhatsApp and SMS. Rumour is villain in Bangalore describes how nearly 15,000 people from north-east India left Bangalore for their home states on August 15 and 16, 2012 following false rumours spread by internet and SMS. These rumours may have been started by mischief-mongers, but ‘forwarders’ may have played a role in making them spread like wild fire. The ‘forwarders’ obviously gained nothing, but nearly 15,000 innocent people suffered.

If people have the time to read an email forward or a text message, surely they can spare the few minutes needed to verify the actual facts before forwarding the same email forward or text message. Surely, they can look before they leap.