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WhatsApp: Friend or Foe in the Age of Mass Media?

By Peter Morgan, Brittney Tolhurst, Michael Chantiri and Erin Grant

We all know how powerful social media is, but what about WhatsApp? The less talked about but arguably more impactful little brother of Facebook. Whether it’s the app’s international reach or the false sense of privacy it instils, there is something about WhatsApp that weaves itself into our lives, for better or for worse.

Here are some examples of how the social media app defies the limitations of other social media platforms:

The Whatsapp forwarding function is the smoke signal of the 21st century. It enables the sharing of news articles and information across great distances and communities. Facebook and Instagram largely share this function but have developed checks and regulations to police inaccurate content. The platform of Whatsapp benefits those whose stories would otherwise go unheard. Behrouz Boochani’s award-winning novel ’No Friend but the Mountains’ was drafted by WhatsApp messages during his imprisonment on Manus Island. During the siege of Aleppo in Syria, surrounded rebels used the security of the platform to update the world on government attacks on hospitals and schools. However, recent circulation of misleading medical advice during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that with the freedom to educate comes the freedom to deceive, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

There has recently been fear sparking in India about the Coronavirus Pandemic by the use of social media platform, WhatsApp. On Saturday, the prime minister of India Narendra Modi has asked all citizens of India not to pay attention to any rumours of cures for COVID-19 that have been floating around. This rumour includes telling people that the virus is not transmitted through the air and that the virus is grounded. They have also released a statement that the virus only lives on the hands for about ten minutes so putting alcohol sterilizer in the pocket leaves the purpose of prevention. There has been no official statement from the Indian government that these suggestions and tips are true. The panic spread in the country now also has all citizens looking up cures for the virus through Youtube videos, spreading even more rumours about the virus. It has been strictly advised by the Indian government that everyone remain calm and not to post anymore about possible cures for COVID-19, specifically in WhatsApp chats, to prevent any more chaos from happening. 

If these scenarios feel removed from you while you sit here reading this, it’s important to remember we can all fall into the rabbit hole that is social media. So here is one TAFE student’s experience with WhatsApp that I’m sure we can all relate to:

In my own personal experience, my band uses Whatsapp to communicate band events, rehearsals, general information etc. In light of the recent Corona outbreak, this has affected the number of gigs we get, when we schedule rehearsals and our recording dates. We have had our fair share of news stories getting passed around in the chat. There was one article in particular which revolved around Daniel Radcliffe having Coronavirus. This later turned out to be false, and we all breathe a sigh of relief when we found out the good news. There are a whole heap of fake articles being passed around and its important to know if these sources are accurate. Deciphering what is true and what is false will help our band ensure safety in these chaotic times. 

Header Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

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