Viral Messages on Coronavirus Conspiracy Deepens the Crisis of WhatsApp  

Despite certain measures that have been taken by Facebook-owned WhatsApp to curb the circulation of misinformation on its platform, it has unable to achieve its promise and the prevailing crisis against the media company deepens due to the recent viral message on coronavirus conspiracy.

Analysts claimed that such misleading information circulated on the social media platform has hampered the professional’s efforts to contain the virus outbreak.

Viral message on Coronavirus

Citing the existing threat of circulation wrong information on media platforms, the World Health Organization (WHO) has claimed the misery of millions more related to the virus epidemic was caused by the “infodemic” of misinformation. Denying the experts’ guidance, several agencies or groups of people are constantly using media platforms such as WhatsApp to circulate fake news or treatments for the virus infection.

On Sunday morning, a viral message was circulated in the Dutch city of Utrecht through WhatsApp saying that drinking hot soup could contain the virus and holding the breath for 15 seconds could detect the virus infection. The message was shared between friends and relatives which reached more than 60 people in a time span of less than an hour.

Ivonne Hoek (63) had narrated that she received the message from a friend, who worked in a hospital, around 11 AM and forwarded it to her two children. Her son, Tim van Caubergh (35) told Reuters that he sent the message to his entire 65 members of a WhatsApp group at 11:36 AM.

He explained, “I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to this if I’d seen it from a stranger on Facebook. But I trust my mum very much,” adding that “I shared it because it came from a trusted source … that is how these things happen.”

WhatsApp Misfortunes

The incident in the Netherlands displayed the challenges faced by the private chat media platforms since they can easily facilitate the circulation of such misleading information within a short period of time to several people in the pretext of sending from a trusted source or shared by friends or family.

Anna-Sophie Harling, the head of Europe for the US-based misinformation monitoring center NewsGuard, explained,  “I think there’s a sense of security and community that exists in these group chats that gives anything shared there a mark of authenticity.” Harling added, keeping that motive, “People can quickly send and resend images, text and voice notes, and it all happens in private, making it really, really difficult to counteract those claims.”

Referring to the trend of circulating false information on media platforms, a researcher at Oxford University’s Project on Computational Propaganda, Lisa-Maria Neudert said, it could hamper efforts to control the spread of the virus. Neudert stated, “From my own experience, yes I do think this has an impact… I know educated people that are heeding inaccurate medical advice they have seen shared on social media and in private messages.”

On Wednesday, WhatsApp, which has over 2 billion users worldwide, said that it had partnered with the WHO and other UN agencies to launch a service for sharing official news regarding health guidance about coronavirus. Will Cathcart, the CEO of the company, said the platform had linked up with some specialists “to support their life-saving work to debunk rumors.”

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