Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - One Step Backward: Rumour and the Whatsapp Forward in Post-Truth India

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

In the curious world of Whatsapp forwards, anything can happen. It can be proven, with one poorly-worded sentence, that the new two thousand rupee note issued by the Government of India can be tracked on Google Maps courtesy a GPS-enabled nano-chip, or that Jawaharlal Nehru — India’s first Prime Minister — was, in reality, the grandson of a Muslim man born in Afghanistan. Or worse: a Whatsapp forward can spread rumors about ‘child-lifting gangs’ and lead to lynch-mobs that result in the death of unsuspecting men, as was in the case in Jharkhand in May 2017.

India is the biggest market for Whatsapp, a popular messaging service owned by Facebook, and had over 160 million active users of the platform in 2016, as per official announcement. Cheaper smartphones, increasing internet penetration, and the availability of affordable mobile data packages has meant that more Indians than ever are using the messaging service to communicate, to stay informed, and also, to spread unverified rumors and hoaxes with potentially fatal repercussions. Rumors have played an important role in social conflicts in the past in India, but with the addition of social media and an increasingly active and organized ‘fake news’ industry to the mix, it becomes important to reconsider the present day circulation and reception of the same. This paper proposes to consider the unique platform that Whatsapp provides for the proliferation of rumors and the repercussions of the same in the light of contemporary concern over the phenomenon of ‘fake news’.

Swati Moitra

Gurudas College, University of Calcutta, India

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2 - One Step Backward: Rumour and the Whatsapp Forward in Post-Truth India



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