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How to deal with rumours, fake news on WhatsApp

We receive plenty of ‘forward’ messages and ‘did-you-kn0w?’ information on WhatsApp or other messaging apps on a daily basis. Most of them end up being forwarded without being checked for any credibility. And, the worst part is most of them are often rumours.

Rumours, by definition, are bits of information that cannot be verified in real time. Despite this, many people accept them as true and share them further.

So why do we fall for fake news or rumours?

Rumours help in maintaining self-image

The mind always wants to take the easy route — it likes to believe in things that do not force us to change our existing ideas. So it’s quite easy to trick the brain. And, whatever information that manages to get through our senses registers in our mind based on our attitudes. Here’s a study that has proved that rumours and fake news can actually trick us to believe that they are real.

So we’re constantly looking at information that will be in line with our thought process or give a validity to our ideas. Once we encounter such information, we very rarely look to confirm its credibility as that would mean that we might lose out on our validation.

So, when we forward any information, we are, in a way, comforting ourselves that what we believe in is true. We send it to others to seek their approval or seek feedback. A positive feedback strengthens the belief system. That is precisely why rumours often divisive in nature. It either appeals to you or makes you delete them immediately.

#1 Google ’em up

A simple Google search will help you separate fact and fiction in matter of seconds. Also, double check with multiple sources and from credible websites.

#2 If the urge to forward is high, chances are it is fake

Another thumb rule. If the urge to forward the message is high, then chances are it is fake. It needs to appeal to your intellect first, and then emotions. Every time you forward a rumour/or information on WhatsApp or other messaging platform without checking its credibility, you are adding to the problem.

Most rumours are designed to take advantage of your insecurities, to piggyback on them and make full use of it.

So, if it any information you receive seems exaggerated/too good to be true/fantastic/educative/important, first do your own search on it.

#3 Rumours spread faster through groups

An app like WhatsApp, with its ability to form groups, is an ideal place to spread information among people who believe they have a common interest. A group is essentially a set of people with a common interest, or to a psychologist, a bunch which thinks, acts, reacts in a predictable manner. A fake news or a rumour that appeals to the senses of the individuals in a group is likely to get good traction.

It gets played out — also dangerously — in two ways.

The message helps in strengthening the belief system of the individuals making them likely to repeat such actions again. And, given that it’s a group, such information spread quicker.

More people->more credibility->faster it grows

#4 Picture forwards are more likely to be fake

We often receive screenshots or pictures that are carefully designed and worded to invoke a certain emotion or feeling. Another thumb rule: rumours spread faster through pictures. Images are powerful tools. They can be designed and structured in a way to get the message across quickly. A great deal of time is spent on making one. And, they can often be symbolical and subtle, giving it more space for making inferences which may or may not reflect reality.

Our cognitive biases will make sure we take the fastest, simplest route to make meaning out of it.

#5 Face validity is high

What do I mean by face validity? It is the degree to which the message or information appears to be true. Often such messages include a person’s name, a study or survey. These are ploys used to make them appear more genuine. Again, a simple fact check will it clear if there’s any credibility in the information.

It is imperative that we understand that spreading such information can be detrimental in the long run. It has become amply clear that it is easy to manipulate and trick people into believing something with a click of a button. Never before in the history of humans have we had this much access to information. Everything is only a click away. So our mechanism to weed out wrong and fake news need to evolve as well. The first step in that direction is identifying them and understanding why we fall for them.

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