Coronavirus is an absolute travesty that has killed thousands of people and completely disrupted our lives in ways that we could not have begun to imagine just a couple of months ago. It is also incredibly boring. Locked away from friends and family, mobile phones, and the use of WhatsApp have become an even more integral part of our daily lives. In many cases, the phone is now millions of people’s closest access to the world that existed before all of this happened.
A fun way to interact with friends and family in these strange times is to forward on funny videos and memes that come our way. Unfortunately, this is also a time where twisted people send fake news simply to spread lies and disinformation.
WhatsApp and its Overreaching action
Fake news and good news cannot be differentiated by the world’s largest messaging app. WhatsApp’s encrypted end-to-end service means that nobody other than the receiver and sender can see the content of the message.
For WhatsApp, this is a problem as the forwarding of fake news in places such as India has led to very real consequences with people being killed based on these false messages.
With fake news being shared more and more in a time where it seems nobody really knows what is going on, WhatsApp’s answer has been to limit the forwarding of some messages to only one user at a time.
This same message can be sent an unlimited amount of times, but the sender has to send it to each contact one forward at a time.
While the reasons for this limit can be understood, it’s not hard to see this move by an app used by over 1.8 billion worldwide as a form of censorship.
It is also incredibly frustrating if a funny video you’d like to forward on to friends to make them smile has been flagged as potentially dangerous and you cannot freely share it.
According to a WhatsApp spokesperson, this is their take on the move:
“We’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
The WhatsApp policy is just one of several worrying trends that could suggest some governments and companies are using this global pandemic to tighten their grip of control over entire populations.
WhatsApp arbitrarily deciding what kind of messages can and cannot be forwarded is one thing, having your whereabouts tracked at all times is another.
Apps being used to track and trace people to control the spread of COVID-19 sound good in theory, but what else happens to all of the data that is collected; where does it go and who gets access to it?
From Hong Kong to Helsinki. Madrid to Melbourne. In most cities in the world, the adoption of tracing apps are being encouraged or enforced to keep the Coronavirus under control.
The worry is not only that this data could be passed on or sold later, but also that this kind of big brother style tracking could be something that governments begin to demand to prevent new outbreaks.
In a time where chaos and confusion reigns, it is sensible to be concerned about the level of oversight that some would like to be accepted as a new normal once this nightmare begins to fade away.