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WhatsApp is probably used more in Pakistan than any other country. Chinese use WeChat; Zalo and Viber are popular in some Southeast Asian countries, and there are other platforms also. I am not sure about India what is popular there. I can safely say that the way Pakistanis have discovered WhatsApp, few countries would have. Another interesting aspect is that uneducated, less educated and educated people are all riding on it with the same ease.
Come Corona, and it brought a new wave of WhatsApp along with it. In the final analysis, it is still not clear which has been more bothersome; Corona or WhatsApp. There was an old joke which ran like this. ‘A family had obnoxiously naughty children. There was a scare of flood in their hometown, so the parents decided to send the children to a relative’s home in another town. Off they went and as per their habits, they knocked the patience out of relatives quickly. After couple of days, the relatives sent a message, “please send the flood here but take the children back.” Shall we say, “Please keep Corona here but take the WhatsApp away”?
What is actually the bulk of activity on WhatsApp since the start of lockdown and, #stayathome and #workfromhome?
First of all, it is 99.999% forwards. There is no original content. Someone must be creating original content for all the zombies of the world to copy, paste and forward. But we never get to know them and are therefore stuck with multiple and repeated forwards of the same content for days on end. There is no logical sequence either. You get a very serious message which is followed immediately by a funny video or a silly joke. India has recently banned TikTok. The politics of the move notwithstanding, the action will bring relief to millions for sure.
If we break down the content into major categories, we see the following blocks.
Religious Content – is a huge block, may be the hugest. We receive Quranic Verses, Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) Sayings, clips of speeches by scores of ulema and maulvis, golden words of wisdom from hundreds of known/unknown sages, wazeefas, prescriptions and so on. Sometimes these forwards come with the instructions to forward to all our contacts, and warning of dire consequences if we do not do so. If we just isolate the religious content, we shall understand that we are the most pious, most upright, and most religious community on the earth. Most certainly, we are not. Unfortunately, the religious content is also forwarded in the same manner as seen with other content; with total lack of understanding and responsibility.
Advisory Content – The world seems to be full of noble, caring people who are perpetually worried about our wellbeing, health, safety and life in general. We get all sorts of prescriptions; herbal, non-herbal, spiritual, personal and anything in between. Please remember that all these prescriptions are completely untested and untried. The forwarders only forward it and do not even bother to add a disclaimer saying the advice is not proven. We know we are very fond of advising everyone, other than our own self, and that we never stand responsible for the consequences of our advices. This is usual, and Corona has multiplied it with an xxxxxx…… number. WhatsApp is buzzing with all kinds of unsolicited advices.
Political Content – this is the most contentious content leading to bitter arguments and fighting. Political polarization started in 1970s and has been rising since. We cannot say it has peaked already because every time we see a new high in emotion and a new low in quality. Whether we are politically active or not, we are subjected to political content anyway.
Social Content – news from around, tidbits of social activities, own activities, others’ activities and so on. There are news, views and debates which get heated up also at times. Social media has created a new class of information; the content with no utility. Social content is mostly in this category. Why would anyone be interested in such content is anyone’s guess, but it keeps coming.
Funny Content – jokes, funny videos, cartoon strips, funny poetry and the like make up funny content. These are usually harmless and feel-good but can be biting at times. Generally, these do bring a little bit of relief.
I cannot say for sure if the forwarding on WhatsApp is done out of vengeance, spirit of sharing, empathy, compassion or just an activity. Whatever it is, it is most definitely excessive and burdensome. It is also an unwarranted attack on personal space of others without permission. I urge everyone to consider this and spare the public from this onslaught.