Kochi: How is your life as an Internet user, receiving great messages every day? Messages that advice you about how to take care of your money, health, and even love life? Messages that can make you millionaires in minutes? You may have been receiving them even before the Internet appeared on the scene, but they used to come once in a blue moon but the popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp is just helping fraudsters spread the hoaxes frequently. You must be receiving at least two or three such messages every day.
A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. Most of the time the hoaxes are annoying and confusing, but sometimes they deserve some attention and care. It is natural that you get bit worried when a message tells you that drinking Pepsi and eating Mentos together will lead to instant death because the mixture turns into cyanide poison. It might baffle you when the message comes with the picture of a three-headed cobra or with an image of a python eating a man. You may be bit tempted when told that Apple is giving away free iPhones and even the emergence of China-made eggs.
Some even send a fake letter stating that the same is written by Arundhati Roy seeking release of a terrorist. Some hoaxes would ask the public to remove WhatsApp or Facebook profile pictures to save themselves from Islamic State terrorists. Some Facebook posts would ask you for 'shares' and 'likes' to generate money to help a dying person.
Every other day a new health tip surfaces on social media, especially on critical diseases. These tips are highly misleading and propagate wrong hope amongst the patients. Fraudsters try to focus on the most common deceases such as diabetics and blood pressure. And cancer survivors are the worst hit. Though there is no scientific backing, people spread messages promoting the benefits of herbs such as Lakshmitharu and Mullatha. Actor Jishnu Raghavan who died recently had said that his condition had only worsened after the use of these herbs.
Dr. Jacob Abraham, the treasurer of Indian Medical association (IMA), Kochi, says that the treatment of every disease has its own set of guidelines that the patients ought to follow. “It is due to the ignorance and great concern for health that people fall victim to such hoax messages,” says Dr Abraham. “These messages interfere with the treatment of diseases and affect the quality of immunity patients register.”
It is a matter of concern that such messages are left unnoticed at the government level and no actions are taken to track propagators. In cases of messages on organ transplantation and looking out for donor, IMA provides detailed report on the procedure to be taken under the Kerala Network for Organ Sharing. The only way to reduce such issues is to spread awareness and to stop forwarding wrong messages on social media, says Dr Abraham.
Online websites which follow the 'clickbait' technique are the masters of sex-related hoaxes. Often websites post links of an alleged sex-tape of a celebrity but the link will lead you to a website, sometimes infected with viruses. There are also fake messages or medicines relating to sexual satisfaction which finally land the user in trouble. Several messages are doing the rounds asking persons to forward a message and gain money. Free giveaways and free recharge coupons are also luring people to click-bait oriented websites.
How to counter
Experts opine that internet users should distinguish real and fake messages. People often rely on intuition or informal reasoning to analyse complex events. At present there is no mechanism as such to curb the practice. Police cannot even track the person who generated the content. Before forwarding a hoax message one should feel confident that it makes sense and has been scientifically validated through studies. 'Think before you forward a message' should be the motto.