The advent of social media has revolutionized the way we consume and share information. Platforms like WhatsApp have made it easier than ever before to share news and insights with our friends and family. While all this has its benefits, it also comes with a major downside – the spread of misinformation.
WhatsApp forwards have become a part of our daily routine. Whether it’s inspirational messages, business insights, or quotes from famous personalities, we all receive and share them on a regular basis. The problem is, not all of the information we receive is accurate or reliable. The beautiful quotes we receive or the urgent helpful information we are obliged to share with others is often false, misleading, or taken out of context.
So let’s take a look into how and why this happens.
The Professors of Whatsapp University
People love to share, or rather forward, second-hand information as if it’s their own. Sermons from Ratan Tata, webinar notes from Deepak Parekh, quotes from Narayan Moorthy – there is no end to these words of wisdom. However, the veracity of these messages is often questionable. Despite this, there is so much information being passed around via personal and group messages.
People forwarding think that they are keeping everyone well informed and updated by spreading such business insights and wisdom. People believe that everyone else may not have access to such unique information that they have accidentally stumbled upon or got passed on to them.
It doesn’t matter if the information is from a legitimate source or not… Since these messages are full of wisdom and intellect, it should be spread as far and wide as possible.
So why are we so desperate to spread information?
The Psychology behind Forwarding Messages
WhatsApp has become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to communicate with loved ones, colleagues, and friends with ease. However, it has also given rise to the phenomenon of forwarding messages, which has become a pervasive issue in our society. People often share information without verifying its accuracy, leading to the spread of misinformation, hoaxes, and rumors.
The desire to share information is driven by a deep-seated human need to attain eternal glory and leave a legacy. We want to be remembered for our thoughts, ideas, and deeds. WhatsApp taps into this need by providing a platform where we can share our “wisdom” with others. We often forward messages without verifying their source or authenticity, but the mere act of sharing makes us feel important, wise, and benevolent.
When we receive a message that contains valuable information, we get a dopamine kick – a rush of pleasure that comes from learning something new or insightful. We then feel compelled to share this information with others, not just because it might be useful to them, but also because it makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s like we’re leaving a piece of ourselves behind for others to remember us by.
When people forward a message, they believe that they are doing a noble act. This behavior is again driven by a dopamine kick, where they feel good about themselves for understanding such wisdom and forwarding it for the greater good of humanity.
At a subconscious level, humans have a deep desire to leave a mark and attain eternal glory. For this reason, we want to leave back a copy of ourselves i.e. have kids who are 50% of our genetic code, write a book to leave behind our thoughts, create monuments, do great deeds so that we live in others’ memories, etc.
How Does Misinformation Spread?
We want to be remembered long after we are gone. This innate desire of an eternal life is driving us to share information at a subconscious level. Social media apps like WhatsApp tap this desire of ours on a daily basis, allowing us to spread our seeds of information, or I would say, our droppings of wisdom.
Often it doesn’t matter whether we are spreading our own droppings or somebody else’s. It doesn’t even matter whether someone actually gave that wisdom or not, as long as it’s being spread. This makes us subconsciously believe that we have attained wisdom and are now forwarding it for others’ benefit, making us believe we have done an act of kindness and benevolence.
The problem with this approach is that it often leads to the spread of misinformation. WhatsApp messages are often forwarded without any fact-checking or verification, which means that false or misleading information can be spread quickly and easily.
It doesn’t matter whether Deepak Parkeh or Ratan Tata said whatever they said when we receive a WhatsApp forward. All we care about in that moment is that for a second, we get a dopamine kick, when we tell ourselves that we understand such wisdom. And since I am so kind and generous, I should spread this information for the greater good of my fellow humans as only good thought will prevail.
For a second we become the Ratan Tata’s or Deepak Parekh’s of our own world, and live this micro fantasy when we are forwarding this messages. This is especially true when we particularly believe in that quote, or relate to it in a personal way. While we are doing this selfless act of spreading wisdom, which is such an unique piece of knowledge from the ‘University of WhatsApp.’
And while we are living in this fantasy world of our own, we believe that the receiver of our “rare” forward will also think that we are as wise as Ratan Tata, Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi or the personne du jour. Apps like WhatsApp make us realize this fantasy.
Here I would like to quote one of my favourite movies, Gangs of Wasseypur, “Jab tak is dunia mei Whatsapp hai.. tab tak log buddhu hi bante rehenge.” (Until there’s WhatsApp, we will keep fooling ourselves.)
WhatsApp vs Twitter: The Importance of Source Attribution
One of the key differences between WhatsApp and Twitter is the way in which they handle source attribution. On Twitter, it is easy to see who has shared a particular piece of information and where it originated from. This makes it easier to verify the accuracy of the information being shared.
In contrast, WhatsApp forwards almost always lack source attribution. We may receive a message containing a quote from a famous business leader, but there’s no way to know if that quote is genuine or if it has been taken out of context. Or even completely fabricated. This lack of attribution makes it difficult to verify the accuracy of the information being shared, which can thus lead to the spread of misinformation.
Unlike WhatsApp, Twitter is a platform where people express their opinions, thoughts, and ideas, making it less prone to the spread of misinformation. Since people on Twitter usually don’t forward information without acknowledging the original source, it doesn’t not give you that dopamine effect until you are truly wise or opinionated.
The Business of WhatsApp Forwards
It’s important to understand how these WhatsApp messages really come into existence. To answer this you need to ask your selves who benefits the most.
- In many cases, they are created by public relations (PR) firms that are hired by famous people or organizations. These firms create messages that are designed to amass publicity or generate interest in a particular individual or brand.
- Messaging companies like WhatsApp benefit from the spread of these messages, as it gives users a reason to use their app. The more messages that are shared, the more users will want to use the app to stay connected with their friends and family.
- Finally, telecom companies benefit from the spread of these messages, as it encourages people to consume more data. The more data people consume, the more money these companies make.
The Importance of Fact-Checking
Given the prevalence of misinformation on WhatsApp, it’s more important than ever to fact-check the information that we receive before forwarding it to others. This means taking the time to verify the accuracy of the information, checking the source of the information, and looking for any potential biases or conflicts of interest.
In some cases, it may be necessary to do some additional research to ensure that the information is accurate. This can be time-consuming, but it’s an essential step if we want to ensure that we’re not contributing to the spread of misinformation. So next time you feel like forwarding a message, ask yourself, is it true wisdom or are you just another professor of the University of Whatsapp.
Abhishek Sareen is a marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He started his career as a management consultant and currently works in international business. He has set up businesses like Track & Trail, BrooksBicycles.com and created consumer brands like Montra, Machcity and Roadeo. He’s is a passionate cyclist and participated in several endurance competitive events like MTB Himalaya. His interests are in behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He is a graduate in Computer Science and an MBA in Marketing. He completed his executive education from IIM-A in 2016 focusing on business strategy.