Elsa Sc S describes the
unpalatable consequences of an amazing device
Perils Of WhatsApp – There is hardly any doubt that WhatsApp is a formidable global communication device that has added facility to human urge to stay in touch. Its use quickly picked up pace and it became a global phenomenon unheard of in human history. It is basically a freeware and cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP service that has proven its ability as one of the most efficient system of intercommunication. As part of the application (Apps) regime WhatsApp allows the sending of text messages and voice calls, as well as video calls, images and other media and documents globally within a jiffy. This communication platform has practically revolutionised interconnectedness and has provided tremendous facility to people across the globe in getting in touch both personally and professionally. It is an extremely viable system that is not only affordable but also widely accessible. It is also very dependable and its users hardly experience difficulty in using it in almost all parts of the world.
WhatsApp is managed through a mobile phone devise as well as from desktop computers and it requires a standard cellular mobile number but needs a Wi-Fi connection to carry messages forward. This is the crucial difference between it as Short Messaging Service (SMS) but the application of WhatsApp is far useful than SMS. When this application started the users could only communicate with other users individually or in groups of individual users but in September 2017 WhatsApp announced a forthcoming business platform which will enable companies to provide customer service to users at scale that will add tremendous value to its usage. This facility is still second to none and is greatly appreciated for its utility.
With a user base known to be in billions it is the most popular messaging application in the world.
Though the widespread use of WhatsApp has provided tremendous facility to its users but it has also brought in its wake vast opportunities of spread of disinformation. The hazard is now a well-known difficulty that has made the users globally extremely conscious of it. There are persistent doubts about the possibilities of exploitation in this communication platform and this aspect first came to fore during the spree of allegations surrounding US presidential election in 2016 that pointed out that the potential of this service to be used to disseminate large-scale falsities is very unnerving. At almost the same time it came to notice that almost two dozen people were lynched in India when a WhatsApp message mentioned killing of a cow but this message proved wrong but it compelled independent observers to call for assessing the damage and find a way out for stopping a repeat of such hazardous event. These are dangerous portents of a very damaging trend that may have profound impact on human behaviour.
The apprehensions are indeed real as WhatsApp now is used by an extremely large number of users and it is a matter of great concern that any information placed on this app can go viral in virtually minutes as its swift forwarding service is second to none. The most potent difficulty is that there usually is no way to determine the veracity of any information sent through WhatsApp and it may cause lethal harm before the mistake is rectified. The prevalence of disinformation is the result of the weird performance of platforms very active in its spread. This risk has become manifold in the developing world where the populations are gullible and tend to believe in any news coming their way without paying attention to checking its veracity. The issue is with closed messaging apps as they complicate the already difficult task of fighting rumours and stamping out lies. Unlike the largely open forums of Facebook and Twitter, WhatsApp hosts private chats among groups of friends. It is encrypted so that no one — not even the service’s employees — can read the content of messages that were not intended for them. This difficulty becomes manifold when platforms use identities that are often located in remote areas and are usually used from much afar than their actual location. The close nature of groups also exacerbates the issue as such groups are intimate in nature comprising family and friends where people trust each other.
The dangerous nature of WhatsApp compelled political leaders and pressure groups to impress upon the service the inherent dangers of this application and now the service is taking steps to root out disinformation. It is developing new technologies to promote news literacy and levels of awareness. It recently announced a major departure from laid down practice and declared to limit the ability to forward messages that was considered the main reason for spreading disinformation enabling it to go viral. WhatsApp has now undertaken to prioritise safety. The service is now emulating Facebook that had poured immense resource to combat fake news and malicious content. The fix at WhatsApp appears hard to achieve owing to the very nature of its chat app that is designed as practically a black hole devoid of being transparent. The app’s encryption mode makes it impossible for security personnel of WhatsApp to read messages unless a user specifically reports them as problematic. And because WhatsApp lets people sign up with just a phone number, WhatsApp does not require users to have an email address or reveal their real name. Due to this drawback, engineers have access to limited visibility into users’ friends or into what they have posted in the past, cutting them off from key clues to malicious behaviour.
The complicated technology makes activities of negative platforms less visible to outsiders particularly to fact-checkers that takes time to debunk flow of disinformation. WhatsApp is providing software tools to fact-checking organisations that will allow them to send a link to a fact-checked story to large numbers of users at once allowing them to debunk fake news en masse. The misuse of WhatsApp mirrors the way in which other communication technology tools have been utilised in recent years to spread disinformation. The irony is that WhatsApp never intended its service to be used for spurious means as its founder is a reputed libertarian who believed in obtaining as less information for user as possible to ensure privacy. WhatsApp however fights frequently over user privacy, access to data and how to make WhatsApp turn a profit. The fierceness to protect user data however proved costly for this platform.
The reason could be that WhatsApp does not see itself as a social-media service because content is not posted publicly and algorithms do not spread information virally. But the difficult aspect is that even without algorithms, WhatsApp’s ability to forward messages has turned it into a hybrid open to manipulation. Despite the WhatsApp still ruling the roost but it now feels under pressure from a growing number of pressure groups and now feels compelled to clamp down by sending engineers and pushing WhatsApp to hire policy experts for the first time doubling the company’s size. As the usual focus of disinformation is the electioneering process therefore the company is designing technology that will be able to indicate whether a message has been forwarded an indicator that the person who sent the message did not actually write the story or produce the content in question. The Weekender