A hotbed of disinformation

Both rumor and fraud are eminently preventable. And for individuals, perhaps the best advice is to take any sensational allegations with a grain of salt.

A man in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, who had undergone two heart surgeries, gave up his medication after falling for rumors on WeChat saying that taking cardiovascular drugs on hot summer days would do more harm than good. Shortly after, he died of heart attack, thePaper.cn recently reported.

The man was just one of the many victims of rampant online rumors.

Nowadays rumors on WeChat take many forms. Some of them are innocuous pranks spread by bored people in pursuit of excitement. Some are more insidious, like disinformation or Internet trolls, disseminated deliberately to mislead.

Alarmist health tips, such as certain foods being highly carcinogenic, are a common kind. These kind of articles try to fuel Internet traffic by exploiting people’s fear. When some go so far as to suggest a possible outbreak of epidemic, they become potentially disruptive.

Multiplying WeChat groups are becoming hotbeds of sensational rumors.

One explanation is that people tend to trust the content shared by their friends or relatives in group chats, especially when the content relates to them in some way, resonates with them, or touches a string. Then they would share and share again, without verifying the sources.

The general credulity becomes amplified by the ease with which a WeChat group could be created. When such ease is exploited by con artists, some groups degenerate into a tool to defraud people of their money. For instance, there have been reports of someone being victimized after joining a group tailor-made for him. As he found out, belatedly, that except for him, the group members were all fraudsters.

Both rumor and fraud are eminently preventable.

Big tech companies should be held responsible for rumors they “unwittingly” host, so that it would be in their best interests to check and verify carefully before publishing.

Relevant authorities, too, need to tighten supervision over platforms like WeChat and their operators to make sure the so-called tech companies are constantly reminded of their social responsibilities.

And for individuals, perhaps the best advice is to take any sensational allegations with a grain of salt.


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