By Hardik Rajgor Sep. 11, 2017
If there’s something that unites India, it is that people of all ages, castes, religions, and sexes will believe anything that appears in their WhatsApp.
The first time I introduced my mother to WhatsApp, I felt like an amused parent gifting their child a hobbyhorse. These things are always cute at the beginning.
She discovered her old friends from school and got regular updates on their lives. That, in turn, taught her to do the same thing with hers, and within days, she had picked up how to share pictures and videos. Then, the forwards began: She started sending me “Good Morning” and “Good Night” motivational pictures every day, despite the fact we stay in the same house. The next logical step, was of course, wishes on Holi, Diwali, Buddh Purnima, Ekadashi, and Sankashti in complete emoji formations. Tacky, but also absolute genius. It wasn’t long before we reached the stage when you get 27 pictures on your family group every time more than three family members meet.
But hearts and new toys are meant to be broken. I realised this the day she sent me this WhatsApp forward:
Important msg from Delhi police to all over India: (screenshot of this message)
For the next few weeks do not drink any product of Frooti, as a worker from the company has added his blood contaminated with HIV (AIDS). It ws shown yesterday on NDTV … Pls forward this msg urgently to people you care… Take Care!!
Share it as much as u can.
The temptation to believe that an incorruptible truth might spring from the fact that my mom hates Frooti the way I hate lauki ki sabzi. As a child, I’d always catch a cough after drinking it and she ensured I wasn’t even in the same PIN code as the damned thing. And now, she had received a reliable nugget of information from a completely credible platform. It doesn’t matter that it is impossible to transmit HIV from drinking or eating food and that no such case has ever been reported on NDTV. Before Frooti, there were a few ketchup brands, and even before that, there was the original rumour about someone infecting someone else with a syringe and leaving them with the ominous message, “Welcome to the world of AIDS”.
I’d have smiled an indulgent smile if I knew that only the elderly get tricked by such messaging. If there’s something that unites India, it is that people of all ages, castes, religions, and sexes will believe anything that appears in their WhatsApp. That includes even the intelligent co-worker or the woke millennial friend you made on the internet. One even tried to convince me that murdered journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh had hidden her Christian identity and that her last name was “Patrick”. Predictably, this rumour had started on Twitter… when someone had joked that people would misinterpret “Patrike”, the journal she ran, as Patrick.
The appeal of a WhatsApp forward is different from a social network like Facebook because unlike a rapidly refreshing timeline, it is impossible to ignore.
“I saw it on Whatsapp!” is now an acceptable defence, whether you are arguing that the new ₹2,000 note has a GPS chip that can track the note’s location or that Vande Mataram was awarded the “Best National Anthem” by UNESCO. We anyway live in a world where beliefs are stronger than facts, and simple Googling is too much work. If I want to believe that forwarding a message to two groups will charge my phone to 100 per cent or that 1 forward equals 1 prayer for a dying child, who are science and facts to claim otherwise?
The appeal of a WhatsApp forward is different from a social network like Facebook because unlike a rapidly refreshing timeline, it is impossible to ignore. A message sits in your phone, willing you to read and love it. Even when it is unverified information that is used to incite public violence. Remember the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013? Morphed images and a lynching video that might have originated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were used to inflame one community against another. Fake news about salt shortage in North India led to chaos and panic, resulting in salt prices increasing by a factor of four in many places.
But I guess that is hardly of consequence, when you can really just forward a message with the speed of a Kaun Banega Crorepati contestant practising for Fastest Finger First. I am waiting for the day I receive a forward about Harry Potter being completely really real. Think about it.
Very important message: –New evil religion has been discovered in US and also confirmed by NASA scientist.
Harry Potter religion is based on 7 books. In the book, humans are described as muggles and these magical creatures plan to kill all humans. It’s a conspiracy against human race. They look exactly like humans and are impossible to identify.
Please take care of your children, this group is brainwashing teenagers around the world who claim to be Potterheads.
Share to everyone you care about
Forwarded as received
But I only joke — this has gone far beyond humour. Terminal stupidity is a widespread epidemic, and the only way to control it is to put a pause on it. If you are part of a Whatsapp group and notice a message that is inaccurate, point it out. You may come across as that asshole in class who reminds the teacher about homework. Everyone else may start hating you but you need to take one for the team. You are the hero the world may despise, but the one it needs right now.
If you’re still on the fence though, you might want to know that an order by the Varanasi District Magistrate states WhatsApp Group admins could face FIRs for offensive posts. It’s not a trick, I swear. This is genuine and true and I have not forwarded this as received.
Hardik is a Mumbaikar in his 20s. That could be his age, weight or waist size. Life is miserable, he likes to look at the lighter side of it.