Apps to Join the WhatsApp Groups and the Story of Forwarding Messages
“Don’t allow these persons in (the) red car to escape. They are child kidnappers.” texted Manoj Patil, a farmer and a construction worker in Handikera village in Aurad taluka, in his WhatsApp group. The four persons in the red car were attacked by an enraged mob and one of them, Mohammed Azam Ahamed, a 32-year-old from Hyderabad was beaten to death; the other three were critically injured. The police have arrested 30 people related to this case so far. With the death of Mohammed, the widespread hysteria around child kidnappers or child lifters, has claimed 15 lives in last four months.
Social media and WhatsApp have been facilitating this hysteria. All the 15 deaths were based on the rumours and fake news that were circulated via WhatsApp and social media platforms. Most of the victims were ‘outsiders’, speaking a different language, or wearing different kind of clothes, or just behaving differently. WhatsApp, a communicating mobile phone application owned by Facebook, was asked by the Indian government to put in place a system to check the circulation of misinformation or fake news. The response by the WhatsApp after this request is interesting.
Equipped with all the technological genius, WhatsApp could just come up with a mechanism to label the forwarded messages. In a note it wrote, “This extra context will help make one-on-one and group chats easier to follow. It will also help you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message they sent, or if it came from someone else...” Labelling might inform us about the forwarded messages, and can serve as a caution. This can hardly be the solution to curtail the spread of the fake news. The problem lies in the feature of WhatsApp groups.
Also Read: The Ugly Side of Social Media
The labelling just differentiates forwarded messages from the personally written messages. WhatsApp’s belief that no one would share the forwarded message further is quite surprising. If this is the case, then Facebook has to research how their app and its feature of groups function. Anyone who is part of any WhatsApp group, knows that most of the messages shared in these groups are not originally created. The problem is with the feature.
Creating and joining the WhatsApp groups
The admins of these groups can create a group – not only with the family members, colleagues, and friends, but also with strangers. This is the main problem with this feature. The admin can jolly well add anyone with or without consent. The process of creating a group and asking for numbers is an old thing now. Admins also advertise their groups on internet asking for the numbers; and there are apps that would help one to join the group without the consent of the admin.
One can watch this video that is published on a YouTube channel called ‘Hindi tech update’. The video is a tutorial teaching “thousands of WhatsApp users and those who like to be part of WhatsApp groups.”
The tutorial begins by saying that it is very difficult to join certain groups without the permission of the admin of the groups; the tutorial introduces ‘groups for WhatsApp app’, an app that would help one to join the groups without asking for permission of the admins. This app has several existing groups on WhatsApp categorised based on the content of the groups; for example: business, roleplay, community, poetry, pet lovers etc. This app also provides an option to choose the language of the group. If you have to join a group, all that you have to do is choose the category and click on the “join the group” icon and confirm that you want to join by saying “yes” and you will be part of the group of your choice.
This is a similar tutorial shared by certain Somashekhar Patil of Clevertech Kannada. In the description of the video, he shares his Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter account details and requests the viewers to follow him on these platforms and drop their numbers along with your “complete details” in his inbox. He promises that he would make a WhatsApp group to discuss issues and seek answers. Patil also warns people not to share “problematic photos and videos” doing so, he says would result in removal from the group.
Both these examples bring to the light, the extent of disposal of personal data through WhatsApp. Anyone who joins a group has all the authority to forward, or share, or create a message. In the first case, you join the group of your choice: the groups and their admins and the motive of the groups, are unknown; in the second case, it is possible to get numbers of total strangers with the help of other social media platforms.
Will WhatsApp and the Government do something about this?
Responding to the government, the company has reportedly said, “WhatsApp cares deeply about your safety. We encourage you to think before sharing forwarded messages. As a reminder, you can report spam or block a contact in one tap and always reach out to WhatsApp directly for help.” If the governments and the company think sensitising people is the only way out, then they are running away from their responsibility.
A simple search on google play store on an android phone show that there are n number of results among the apps for the search “groups for WhatsApp”. The groups are highly unregulated. If this is the headache of the company, the governments, both the central and the state governments need to wake up and address the law and order problem caused by an app.
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