Blog
Here we are, sitting in the 21st century, forwarding texts to each other on how it was the Vimana Shastra which first discovered aerodynamics.

If you are one of those who is frustrated at the stupid jokes, ‘warnings’ and random amazing ‘facts’ that we are bombarded with everyday on WhatsApp groups, then I am going to vent out your frustration for you.

If you are one of those who are adept at forwarding those WhatsApp texts from one group to another, without any regard for common sense or sensitivity, then you need to sit tight and read this.

On Tuesday morning, I received the following WhatsApp message from a Chennai-based person on one of the groups I am forced to be in,

Important Flash :

In chennai ....Police Comissioner Rakesh Maria started a good service with a dedicated helpline for women.

Before boarding the taxi or auto, sms the Vehicle Number to +919969777888. You will get an acknowledgment via sms. Vehicle will be tracked via GPRS.

Share with as many as you can. Help your sister, mom, your wife and female friends.

An avid follower of news would know that Rakesh Maria is not the commissioner of Mumbai police anymore thanks to the Sheena Bora murder case, and I don’t expect everyone to be one and know that. But what can justify the ignorance of not knowing your own city police commissioner?

There is a lot more from where this comes.

Last week, TNM was getting unusual web traffic from Chennai for on old story on a WhatsApp forward which something to do with NASA. We figured finally that the traffic was high as people were searching to find out if the following was true,

Guys CHENNAI IS ON HIGH ALERT NOW!!!
NASA has warned INDIA tat CHENNAI will suffer ah very very high rainfall with a hurricane !!!
NASA has given 2 dates 21,22 ...on these 2 days unpredictable rainfall in the history of INDIA will lash tamilnadu ...the rainfall will be about 250 cm in CHENNAI!!!
So indian central gov has now deployed 3000 NDRF to tamilnadu and  border security force and airforce and army on the toes....!!
NASA's prediction never miss....! 
Watch CNN IBN they r telecasting the live show....!!

We found out later that the message was false and based on information that was two years old. There was no such show on CNN IBN. While we were happy to see that people were going online to check the veracity of the information, what was disturbing was that this message was being passed on at a feverish pace on WhatsApp. It was spreading like wildfire. A colleague's friend stuck at her apartment in Chennai was making panic calls after reading this, ironically she was forwarding this message to every person she knew.

The earlier story we had done was on another text message stating that NASA can predict earthquake in India.

Nope, not over just yet. Just as Chennai started feeling the initial jitters of the monsoon in October, another text was going viral on WhatsApp.

Flash: According to Met deptt, due to a low pressure formation from 26th Oct, which is likely to move North, there is going to be very heavy rain here on 28th and 29th Oct. According to one model, Chennai may see an unprecedented 30 cm of rain on 28th itself! If that happens, I figure, Chennai will be submerged. We really need to gear up now...

Sent by Mr. Kannan, Commissioner - Health & Safety, Chennai Corporation.

Please stock food items.... As there might be heavy demand

The Corporation of Chennai which is responsible for the civic governance of the city does not have a “Health and Safety” department. There is one Mr. Kannan, however, and he is the Deputy Commissioner of Public Health and Family Welfare Department. He actually did speak about the rains, but nothing remotely close to that stated in the viral message. Although, he did battle about 300 calls in two days denying he ever said anything like that.

All of this was just the rains. Here is a Reddit thread on “the most ch***ya WhatsApp forward” people have got. It has some real gems, from simple ones like

"Our National Anthem has been selected as the best Anthem in the world by UN. Please share this proud news to everyone."

to absolute nonsense like,

क्यो 'अमेरिका' ने "भारतीय - देशी - गौमुत्र"  पर 4 Patent लिया , व, कैंसर और दूसरी बिमारियो के लिये

दवाईयाबना रहा है ? जबकी हम "  गौमुत्र  

" का महत्व हजारो साल पहले से जानते है,

Why has US got cow-urine patented and is making cancer medicine from it whereas we Hindus have known its importance since millennia.

Here is another entire list, and this one too, with texts based on subjects ranging from Frooti to Narendra Modi.

Don’t roll your eyes thinking no one believes stuff like this. We have all got such forwards from people who believe such things to be true and pass it on with cultural-nationalistic pride, and they are all ‘educated’ people.

This would all be funny if the forwards were only silly and not dangerous. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Just this month in Chennai, thousands of people were getting paranoid over false alarms on WhatsApp. It is being used for petty crime,promoting fears, inciting riots and keeping social divisions alive. It is causing serious damage.

The problem is that even sensible and aware people can get taken in. Later on Tuesday, a follower of TNM on Twitter sent us a video of what he said was a video of fishes and snakes inside a flooded house in Velachery in Chennai. Just a year ago, we would have simply attributed the video and published it. Today, we asked him to check. He got back to us stating it was a WhatsApp forward and no one knew where it came from, so he was taking it down. I am not sure we can blame him, we are all falling for it.

Is this hyper-connectivity and ability to pass on information in microseconds meddling with our ability to think straight? Are we getting dumber?

There has been a lot written on how technology is making us dumber, and smarter. Some believe in the Google Effect of the search engine era kicked off by the internet giant is making us stupid. After all, here we are sitting in the 21st century forwarding texts to each other on how it was the Vimana Shastra which first discovered aerodynamics.

My theory however is that our proclivity to believe in nonsense is couched in an existing mindset which does not encourage curiosity or logical reasoning. We are not taught to question by our education system, only shut up and ‘mug-up’ any information fed to us.

Which is why, we must call out senseless texts being forwarded. With technology exposing us to more and more such certifiable BS, if it is called out every time, perhaps it could end up making us smarter. So next time that guy, friend or family, sends across that absurd text message, call him out. You are doing humanity a favour. This could end up making us all smarter.

UPDATE:

Just as we were publishing this blog, another rumour broke out in WhatsApp groups in Chennai, that 40 crocodiles had escaped from the Crocodile Park on ECR. No prizes for guessing if it was true or false.