Many of us have seen the phrase “Forwarded as Received” in messages sent through various chat apps and digital platforms in Sri Lanka. This has become an epidemic with the advent of social media and mobile internet, as well as the dangerous combination of the two. While some of them are informative and have some validity, the vast majority of them are half-truths and outright lies intended to amuse or sway public opinion. As a result, people have been divided into three groups: believers, verifiers, and “what-do-you-thinkers.”
Fake news spreads due to people forwarding messages without verifying their accuracy, and these messages frequently take on racial and religious overtones. The lack of a physical location has aided the spread of misinformation across borders. Consider all the videos you’ve seen of ostensibly Sri Lankan accidents that turned out to be events elsewhere. Because there is no explicit timeframe, misinformation can spread over time; this is why we see the same piece of misinformation resurface after a few months. Sharing posts has evolved into a form of social exchange: the more posts we receive, the more we share, and so on. With messaging apps like WhatsApp, which make forwarding posts simple, this type of social exchange, using viral posts as currency, has become much easier.
Our forwarding habits reveal a lot about us as well. It’s not as if we’re sending the same information to everyone. One of three stimuli driving our desire to share, according to the late American psychologist William Schutz, is ‘inclusion’ – the desire to belong to a group and to receive personal attention. So, for the most part, we’ll only forward to those who confirm what we’re sending. You may not have been known as a funny guy in college, but now you’re the guy who forwards the group’s funniest jokes above and beyond the one-to-one message forwarding used to create friendships based on shared interests or to impress others
In Sri Lanka, forwarded messages are commonplace in friend circles, school batch groups, public large chat groups, and even private chats. Many of these messages, whether they’re about a miraculous cancer cure or a political message, include a line that says it all: “Forwarded as received.” Many people who receive these messages are happy to forward them to a hundred or more people on their contact list without verifying them. Maybe they’re hoping that someone else will take care of that part. The invention of the forward button must be the single biggest reason for the explosion in the flow of information, in Sri Lanka. From news, views and fake news to jokes and good-morning messages, we excel at it like no one else.
Misinformation is a serious problem, and acts of violence show that the consequences extend beyond the realm of social media. While it’s easy to point the finger at WhatsApp, Facebook, or any other popular app, it’s important to remember that misinformation isn’t limited to social media. It’s even done in the mainstream media. WhatsApp’s popularity has become a curse, either directly or indirectly. Many believe that the platform, rather than the perpetrators of violence, should be the focus of attention and held accountable. In such a situation, where education is lacking, it is difficult to verify messages sent via WhatsApp or any other app. Many users in Sri Lanka are unfamiliar with the concept of verifying something they received via messages, such as from their father or a friend.
In 2018, WhatsApp implemented a forwarded message tag to combat the spread of viral misinformation on its platform. To indicate to the user that a message has been forwarded, it is marked with a single or double arrow. A double arrow indicates that a message has been forwarded five times or more. Later, in an attempt to combat the spread of misinformation, WhatsApp imposed significant restrictions on the mass forwarding of messages. WhatsApp, like other social media platforms, has seen an increase in users spreading hoaxes, rumours, and other types of false information about the coronavirus and other current events. It will now stop messages from being forwarded to groups in bulk. Instead, users will have to put in more effort to spread information. Users will only be able to send a message to one chat at a time, rather than five if it is repeatedly forwarded. A message with a forwarded tag may cause some users to be suspicious of the message’s authenticity. For some receiving a message with a forwarded tag indicates that the information is currently being discussed. Others don’t recall or don’t pay attention to the forwarded tags
Despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has put countries around the world on high alert, the “infodemic” of fake news appears to be spreading faster than the virus itself, particularly in Sri Lanka. With news and updates about the coronavirus coming from a variety of places, including television, newspapers, social media, and other sources, it can be difficult to sort through all of the information and figure out what’s true and what’s not. You might come across an intriguing link on social media that appears to be genuine. The thing about fake news is that it appears to be true. But how can you be sure? How can you tell if it’s genuine or not?
Fastest Finger First
The paradigm shift in knowledge has shifted from “I know more than you” to “I know it before you.” ‘Before’ trumps ‘more’ in an internet universe where everyone has access to information. It’s turned into a race to see who has the fastest finger first. And if you lose the race to post it first in one group, you can always publish it first in another group, such as family or friends.
It’s simple to share a post, but it’s much more difficult to reverse the effects of misinformation. Corrections can be issued by news organizations, fact-checking websites, and government agencies to debunk a piece of misinformation. Still, studies have shown that corrections aren’t always effective in correcting misperceptions. Everyone must play a role in combating COVID-19’s public health threat, just as everyone must play a role in combatting spreading fake news. False information spreads like a virus on the internet. They infect one weak host, which then spreads the infection to other hosts. It only takes one user to believe a falsehood and then spread it to others, rather than taking steps to verify the information first, to start spreading misinformation.
We share posts for various reasons, ranging from simple amusement to more altruistic motives, such as showing others that we care. Whatever the reason, sharing should not come at the expense of misinforming others, especially at a time when accurate information is more critical than ever.