WhatsApp
(Photo : Screenshot from Official Facebook Page of WhatsApp)

On Sunday morning, Mar. 15, there was an outbreak the same as the coronavirus--it is not the coronavirus but more of a digital virus. An "infodemic" you could say, and the platform in question is WhatsApp. This happened in the Dutch city of Utrecht, which infected more than 60 people in just an hour.  

WhatsApp
(Photo : Screenshot from Official Facebook Page of WhatsApp)

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What's This All About?

Have you ever wondered where your loved ones get their news? Is it a trusted source or just coming from an anonymous one? If it's the latter, they play on your worst fears and make them believe in a way that they genuinely are real that makes you want to share the information regardless of the facts or lack thereof are.

Infodemic, What's That?

The World Health Organization (WHO) said there is an abundance of infodemic of information going around right now, especially playing against the fears of people regarding the coronavirus and what's happening in the world. 

Giant tech companies like Facebook and Twitter are now investing heavily in censorship regarding posting misleading information about the coronavirus; this includes but not limited to denials of expert guidance and the encouragement of fake treatments found online. 

The Perspective of the What's App Users

Ivonne Hoek, 63, has said she received a message from a friend around 11 AM. When Ivonne asked her friend where it came from, the friend promptly messaged her back, saying it was from her neighbor that works at the hospital. 

When she found out about this, she immediately sent the message to her two children. One son, Tim, then sent it to his entire 65-person Frisbee team with one tap of a button, the time is now 11:36 AM.

Tim has told Reuters, "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". He also added, "I shared it because it came from a trusted source ... that is how these things happen."

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Chat Content is a Different Beast

The rapid spread of misinformation like the one from the Netherlands is an example of just how difficult it is for the platforms to police itself. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is facing this challenge where it is harder to bar content that is often thought of as factual since it would be coming from a trusted source, especially if shared from friends and family. 

Anna-Sophie Harling, the head of Europe for the U.S-based information monitoring center NewsGuard, has recently said, "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," 

She also added: "People can quickly send and resend images, text and voice notes, and it all happens in private, making it difficult to counteract those claims."

Lastly, she said: "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."

WhatsApp Steps to Counter Infodemic Misinformation

WhatsApp has recently partnered with the WHO and other U.N agencies to launch a service for sharing official health guidance about the coronavirus. This is an excellent step to take since the spread of misinformation is also very troubling and can cause panic and hysteria in times that are not called for. 

As WhatsApp is following the steps that Facebook and Twitter are doing, it's good to know that they are doing what must be done to limit the spread of misinformation and spread the real factual information supported by WHO to combat the disease that is the coronavirus.

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