‘WhatsApp security has been breached. The company has asked its users to update the app via the official channels and also an OS update for further security if available. Meanwhile please do not accept calls or respond to messages from unknown numbers or unverified contacts.’
This is the original news. What actually matters is that the company has agreed that some breach has occurred and sent out the necessary solution to it via updates. This should have ended here, with everyone updating the app and keeping themselves secure.
But like all things internet, this simple news steamrolled into something HUGE, breaking through every aspect of common sense and the latest message from a friend reads as such:
‘WhatsApp security has been breached. The app is no longer safe. Clear all your media files in your phone, stop updating in drive, clear your contacts, delete chats and leave groups. Remove your DP and don’t put any statuses.’
*Shared via a WhatsApp status.
When I read this, I had so many questions in my head.
Clear all media. Stop updating in drive… But that ‘media’ consists of important photographs and not just forwards. And updating in the drive is how I keep chats safe if I want to switch phones unexpectedly, as has happened before.
Clear your contacts and delete chats… If I delete contacts, how am I supposed to identify who I know and who I don’t, and stop receiving calls from unknown numbers (which was touted to be the original reason for the breach)?
Delete chats and leave groups… Read as remove all evidence and stop networking.
Remove your DP and don’t put statuses… Well that just made everything clear. What am I supposed to do with WhatsApp now? Also… this.was.a.status.by.itself!
But this is not an isolated incident. The most believable rumours are those that have a partial truth in them. Carefully designed to fool even those who immediately Google the rumour, only to see a relevant headline popping up, these rumours are built upon and roll down as an avalanche.
The boiling hot news that breaks out stops being a simple egg-face and grows eyes, nose, ears, mouth, beard and moustache, sometimes even jewellery as appropriate until it is so different from the original, actual thing.
And the ‘news’ becomes an avalanche, gathering more stuff as it speeds down the hill, breaking through (and via) every semblance of normalcy effortlessly. Very soon, even the ‘informed netizens’ go into panic mode, spreading the word and being Good Samaritans in educating their less(er) fortunate friends and family, giving credibility to what should have been quashed while it was just a fist sized snowball.
The panic mode of the partial truths create a sleeper cell message that goes viral for a few days until the noise subsides, only to be taken up and spread again when there is a lull in group conversations.
The unnecessary reactions to things beyond one’s control, and the belief that the digital world can become safer merely by hiding stuff in one’s phone after it has been bartered online, make such rumours immensely scarier because, at the heart of it all, there is some truth to what was being circulated.
And it is this truth that suffers the most, because of the exaggeration, making people wave it aside dismissively, simply because they, like the original poster, cannot follow all steps listed. So if it is not going to be safe anyway, why bother doing it partially? The intent goes awry, the content is malformed and the crux is lost amidst everything. Truth be told, no sane person can be expected to respond to forwards that go:
‘The only way to combat this breach is to drop everything you know, book a ticket to the Amazon Rainforests or maybe Timbuktu or Honolulu and erase your complete identity and get yourself a new one simply because you were once a digital world consumer.’
A famous comedy track in a Tamil movie has a punchline. ‘Maaplaikku, thangathula sombu venumaam.’ To those who understand this reference, that is how these rumours work, spread with malicious intent and sometimes used as tools to show off one’s knowledge and power in keeping themselves updated.
Like those secrets passed on during that childhood game from one person to another until it reaches the last in line where it would have completely transformed into something unrecognisable, these ‘facts’ are twisted beyond recognition, with each person posting it adding their own flavour to it until it becomes a nauseating mix of improbable instructions that can only be laughed at.
The same social media the helps victims of disasters by spreading relevant information at the right time, is also the force that could create such digital warfare disasters too. If used unwisely, as is often the case.
It is now a popular ‘joke’ where a school-going child could not even attend school (with or without company) because once he had gone missing and a plea was sent over social media to identify him (thankfully resulting in him being found within hours). As the ‘joke’ then goes, the message keeps resurfacing and getting a new life without being verified, so much that the said child cannot even have a normal life anymore thanks to someone who would identify him from the photo and report him missing to the authorities again.
Laugh-worthy much? Not to someone who must have actually gone through this.
So the next time you come across such a message: think more than once before you become a part of that group creating the avalanche.
Before you add your well-meaning advice to it, ask yourself if it is really necessary.
Before you attest, confirm.
Before you forward, verify.
It cannot be that hard to make an informed choice now, is it?