Monday 13 April 2020

Fake news & chat groups: How WhatsApp ruined my childhood with viral misinformation

Dear WhatsApp,

I have stupid friends and relatives.

Actually, my friends aren’t really friends, just people I used to go school with, whom I barely see over the years.

Unfortunately, I am related to my relatives, whom I also barely see over the years.

And this was before social distancing.

You may ask, if I barely see these people over the years, how do I know they are stupid?

That’s a very good question.

The answer is you.

It’s because of you, WhatsApp, that I know how stupid my friends and relatives are.

If you weren’t invented, I would have happily lived my life assuming my friends and relatives, whom I barely see, were people of normal intelligence.

Too bad you did get invented by a couple of former Yahoo employees in 2009, resulting in me being in WhatsApp groups with these friends and relatives, which exposed their stupidity to me by the stupid things they share.

And I'm not just talking IQ-lowering time-wasters like repeated jokes and videos I have avoided on other platforms.

One of my cousins forwarded a message about a doctor who recovered from “Corona illness” by inhaling steam. It even came with a video.

So basically, the treatment for Covid-19 is not so different from how you make char siew pau?

Where’s Pofma when you need it?

It was fake news, but no one in the chat group pointed that out. Not even me, because if I corrected the fake news, it would be all I would be doing.

Your chat groups need more fact-checking than Donald Trump’s press briefings.

Fact check: Yes, Yentl really did tweet about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Hey, no truth is ever a lie.

Then in another chat group, this one made up of former primary school classmates, a covidiot forwarded a message that gargling salt water and drinking warm water can prevent Covid-19.

Thankfully, someone else was un-stupid enough to call it fake news, but then another ex-classmate replied: “Fake or not, no harm trying. Quite basic thing to do.”

What an un-un-stupid thing to say. I was stunned like vegetable.

The thing is, once upon a time, I had such a huge crush on that last classmate.

During lessons, I would stare longingly at the back of her head from across the classroom. She was so pretty and smart.

Forty years later, none of us are as pretty as we used to be. And now I find out she's not as smart too?

I couldn’t be more disillusioned if her voice sounds like Doraemon.

I blame you and your stupid chat groups.

Yes, I know last week, you started limiting the forwarding of viral messages to one chat at a time to slow the “spread of misinformation”. It’s like your own little circuit breaker.

I’m not sure what good it will do. You’ve already ruined my childhood.

Now I’m the stupid one for once being infatuated with a person who says gargling salt water to kill the coronavirus is “quite basic thing to do”.

I’m so heartbroken even the sight of a pink moon can’t make me feel better.

If only Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor can make me an omelette.

I’ll have it to go. I don’t want to be fined $300.

Despite everything, I’m still reluctant to leave your stupid chat groups because they’re the only way I stay in touch with my friends and relatives since, you know, I barely see them.

Well, at least you’re not Zoom.

No stranger on WhatsApp has yet to ask me to show my breasts.

I did all those push-ups in self-isolation for nothing.

- Published in The New Paper, 13 April 2020