7 Ways to Avoid the Spread of Fake News

WhatsApp is the country’s top mobile messaging app, but is every single message you receive truthful, or are you falling for fake news on a daily basis? Find out seven top ways to identify and stop the spread of artificial news when those massages arrive.

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Bonus Extra: To understand How to Protect Your Reputation in a Fake News World from a brand perspective where effectively managing reputation is critical, watch our free on-demand webinar here

The State of WhatsApp in India

It is official – TechCrunch has confirmed that WhatsApp now has over 400 million monthly active users in India. This is larger than the entire population of the United States. It also makes India the place there WhatsApp is used most across the globe. In 2017, WhatsApp hit 200 million users in India – which means it’s doubled its user base in just two years. There’s no denying this is incredible growth.

In addition, India is nearing 500 million active internet users, and currently has approximately 450 million smartphone users, meaning that WhatsApp will likely soon be used by every single Indian smartphone holder.

But we have bigger problems than constantly pinging phones causing an office distraction to deal with. There are ever-spiralling fake news reports on the mobile messaging platform that users need to be aware of.

Video Veracity: Falling for Fake News via Phone

News18 reported this week, “No, Mumbai is not under a terror attack, ignore fake news being circulated on WhatsApp.”

The message was widely circulated on social media, particularly on WhatsApp and Facebook. It featured a video message allegedly by the Mumbai Police Commissioner, asking residents to stay indoors. “Total Mumbai under terrorist attack. Please be careful. All railway stations. All bars and cinema halls. Auditoriums. All public places. Please forward to all groups.”

While it’s exceedingly more difficult to assess whether videos have been faked or not, the “please forward to all groups” part of the message in particular is a red bell-ringer for whether or not it’s authentic.

News18 says it just took a reverse search of the screenshot taken from the video to find that this shortened clip is actually part of a longer 1:29 minute video on YouTube. That’s also where it became apparent that the man in the video is not in fact Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve but instead Brigadier Hemant Mahajan.

Given the current climate of fear and social media activism that’s risen following the scrapping of Article 370, many spread the video, only to further spread unnecessary panic.

This incident alone serves as fair warning to think twice before you forward a video on WhatsApp, or any social media platform, for that matter which may only cause unnecessary widespread panic.

That may seem a little disingenuous, as that’s the point of the platform – communicating with your loved ones. But you also don’t want them to fall prey to a prank or worse, identity theft just because you sent on a dodgy message without doing due diligence.

Unfortunately, turbulent times like elections and changes of leadership make us ripe to fall for misinformation and propaganda as we clutch at straws for false hope and spread messages quickly in the hope of warning our friends and family and keeping them safe. There was so much of this that the BBC went so far as to dub WhatsApp the “black hole” of fake news in the run-up to the 2019 election, where old images were being shared with false captions.

DigitalTrends goes so far as to call it an “around-the-clock avalanche of misinformation“, with serious consequences as it’s said to have “mislead mobs into lynching innocents and enabling partisans to abuse its far-reaching presence for political gain.”

Tips To Avoid Falling Prey to Fake News (From WhatsApp Itself)

Though NextWeb reported four months ago that WhatsApp’s Checkpoint fake news tip line and Proto, WhatsApp‘s project partner, were extremely slow to respond and “just for research purposes,” particularly to verify misleading messages during the election, there’s still lots you can do to ensure you’re not spreading false news without feeling that you shouldn’t dare press “Forward.”

WhatsApp recently partnered with media skill start-up, Proto, for its “Checkpoint Tipline” initiative, where people in India can submit misinformation or rumours to the Checkpoint Tipline on WhatsApp. Although NextWeb reported that WhatsApp Checkpoint is slow to respond and “just for research purposes,” particularly to verify misleading messages during the election, there’s still lots you can do to ensure you’re not spreading false news without feeling that you shouldn’t dare press “Forward.”

WhatsApp itself has shared the seven following tips to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news, whether specifically in WhatsApp messages or on other social media:

1. Take Note of the “Forwarded” Label

The new grey italics “forwarded” label at the top of certain messages is a clear indicator that it originated elsewhere from the source that sent it to you. A WhatsApp can only be forwarded to five recipients at a time, in an attempt to curb this form of fake news-spreading.

2. Carefully Check Photos and Other Media

But not all messages are forwarded, and up to 256 people can be part of a group – especially of extended family members. In this day and age, there’s nothing easier than editing a photo, audio file or even video to look like something it’s not, or copy-pasting a link and pressing Send.

WhatsApp says to check whether other trusted news sources are spreading the “see it to believe it” content, as that means it’s more likely to be true, having been vetted by the various media’s internal teams. Click here to do a reverse image search on your phone, and watch Bloomberg’s video on the rise of deep fake content.

3. If the message looks ‘different’, take it with a pinch of salt

Hoaxes and fake news said to be from official bodies and authorities often contain clunky phrasing, spelling mistakes and web domain names that seem slightly off. If they ask you to tap on a link to activate special content or for personal information like credit card and bank account numbers, birthdate, passwords, beware!

4. Check your biases at the door to information

Taking things a step further, WhatsApp says to keep an eye out for information that confirms your views, and be sure to review the facts before sharing them. If you get the feeling it’s too good (or bad) to be true, ignore for now.

5. If it’s ‘gone viral’, chances are it’s fake news

Just because numerous friends and family have shared the same message with you, doesn’t make it true – they could have all fallen for a story that seems official but falls short on facts. Don’t ever feel compelled to forward a message just because the sender urges you to do so.

6. Verify against other sources – and check their sources

Google is your friend – as are sites like SM Hoaxslayer. If you’re still in doubt, check with sites specifically built for this purpose. The BBC says Indian fact-checking websites like AltNews and Boom frequently debunk public political posts shared on Facebook and Twitter, but WhatsApp posts tend to be private and encrypted, as it’s seen as a mostly global human right to be able to communicate privately online. So check if the news has been shared on other social platforms, then verify whether it’s real or not.

7. Last, and most important: Stop the spread!

If your careful checking reveals you have indeed almost fallen for fake news, make sure you stop the spread in its tracks. Let the person who sent you the fake news know what you’ve found out, and be ask them to tell everyone else they sent the message onto to. It may not have been done out of malice, they may not have realised it was fake news to start with, and simply panicked and tried to share with everyone they know. On the other hand, some seem to thrive on spreading fake news. If you find that’s the case, you can report or ban either a contact or group for doing so – here’s how.

It’s on all of us to do what we can to halt the spread of misinformation, especially on easy-sharing platforms like WhatsApp – and that’s the truth!

If you want to learn more about fake news and the affect it can have on society and on your brand, watch our free webinar here, or subscribe to our mailing list to be the first to know when our next content pieces, webinars, events or blog posts on fake news is published.

Social Activism in a Social Media World

It may seem the most passive form of activism, but netizens often turn to social media to encourage social change, because it spreads at the flash of light across the globe. The Guardian reports that social media activism or “slacktivism” is a weak form of effecting change. But in some cases, it’s all consumers can do, and most of the time it’s incredibly effective at raising awareness, if nothing else.

Here, we explore when social media is effective in creating societal change, when it isn’t, and what brands need to know when jumping on board social issues.

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Social Media Uprising

Especially if you can’t physically be there, whether barred by distance of stronger forces. Just think of the Arab Spring uprising.

While SourceWatch confirms that social media itself didn’t cause the uprisings, demonstrations and revolutions back in 2011, Facebook pages like “We are All Khalid Said,” Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger and blogs certainly helped organise over 100,000 people to protest on Egypt’s Police Day – all the more impressive when you consider the Facebook page had originally aimed for half that number to protest.

SourceWatch adds that “Facebook appears to have played an important role in mobilizing the younger, more urban and wired classes, giving them the comfort of an online community and making it safer to take collective action.”

Lending more truth to the cause, just a few weeks ago, social media users made their profile pictures a specific shade of #BlueforSudan to tie in with the #TurnTheWorldBlue hashtag.

This followed the support of Hollywood celebs like George Clooney, Rihanna, Naomi Campbell and Ariana Grande, of what NewsCorp Australia dubbed a “people-led push for democracy in Sudan”, in solidarity with and honour of those killed. It’s said to have formed part of: “the plan to coax Western governments to increase international pressure on the ruling military in Sudan.”

al jazeera - blue for sudan - social media for social activism

Hashtags: The Only Voice We Have Left?

The global online blueing movement, sparked by the death of Mohamed Hashim Mattar, started small, with Mattar’s family and friends posting his favourite colour, a particular shade of blue, on their social media profiles to honour his death – even more symbolic as NewsCorp Australia reports the Sudanese government shut down the internet as way to “conceal its massacres and crimes against civilians.”

TRTWorld confirms “This isn’t just any blue, it’s Mattar’s blue. He was in love with colours in general and this was his favourite one. Say his name. Remember him,” wrote Twitter user, Dinan al Asad.

So rather than just a random choice, followed by a click and wish for the best, Sudanese-American campaigner Remaz Mahgoub called it an “effort to raise awareness, as we the Sudanese diaspora are the only voice left.”

peace during protest - social media activism

Get Ready To Go #RedforKashmir

Now, a similar mass colour wave for support is playing out over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram alike, right here in India, this time #RedForKashmir. 

It comes after the Modhi government’s Bharatiya Janata party abolished Article 370 of the Indian constitution on 5 August 2019, which had accorded special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Effective immediately, J&K now ceases to be a state and is instead be seen as a Union Territory with legislature.

While previously the state’s local legislature, the Constituent Assembly of Jammu, was allowed to make its own laws and bans people from outside the state from buying property, obtaining state government jobs and participating in state-sponsored scholarship programmes, Sputnik International explains: “Rejecting that special status means the national government is ensuring that the national constitution will now be applied throughout the Himalayan state.”

It’s been reported that some saw the move as something to celebrate, as the undoing of a “Nehruvian blunder” and step toward integration, but intense disquiet has also been brewing about what’s really going on in Kashmir over the last week, especially in light of the scariness of a near-total mobile, media and telecommunication black-out in the region from the weekend.

And so, #RedForKashmir is gaining momentum. Why red? “Red is the colour of our blood. Red is the colour of our history. Red is all of us,” confirms News18.

social change on social media

Rise of Red Across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Globally

India.com adds that #RedForKashmir is spreading fast and trending on social media while leaders, journalists and activists have been detained and even locked in their homes, with curfew declared and no news coming in or out. In the super-connected times, it’s like taking a step back in the global time machine.

Med student and vlogger Dawood Yousuf recorded a podcast about how other “Kashmiris outside Kashmir are coping with the situation and the siege.”

Dawood Yousuf @youdawood

The rest of the world is taking note and standing strong with Kashmiris – thought they don’t know it, as even Instagram access has been limited, with Sputnik International adding that netizens are changing their profile pics to plain red after India scrapped Kashmir’s special status. This comes amid ongoing cross-border violence with Pakistan along the Line of Control.

The hashtag movement is spreading a sense of unity for some, as MangoBaaz writes that of all nations, Pakistanis are standing in solidarity with Kashmir. All the top trends in Pakistani social media at time of writing were related to the situation in Kashmir, including #StandwithKashmir, #Article370 and #KashmirParFinalFight.

Fears are further spreading globally among those who have heard what’s happening through the global digital grapevine, as India.com concludes that visitors to the region have been sent back, based on alleged intelligence reports of terror threats to the region: “Thousands of more troops have been deployed in the already highest militarised zone of the world. We are going for #Redforkashmir to bring global attention to the region.”

Twitter user @huzedinehuzane adds the following powerful call: “#KashmirBleeds and the world is silent because it does not know. I implore my followers to join Kashmiris in changing their profile picture to red. Because they fear the power of people on social media, India silenced them with internet and communication shut downs. Be their voice.”

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What Brands Need to Know About Using Crisis Hashtags

It can be very tempting for brands to lend their voice when they see hashtags trending globally, but a word of caution before you leap into the fray – authenticity is key.

Cypha Social adds a further word of caution against jumping the hashtags bandwagon without doing your research, explaining:

“There are significantly more eyes on the social media pages of brands than on everyday individuals, and with these eyes come significantly greater expectations when it comes to appropriate posts as well