In smaller cities, 45% people don't believe WhatsApp forwards: Survey

As many as 45 per cent people never believe messages they receive on WhatsApp, a sample survey carried out in tier-2 and tier-3 cities in 11 states has found.

The survey, ‘Fighting Fake News: Whose Responsibility is it?’ was carried out by Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) in partnership with WhatsApp. 

The idea was to create awareness about misinformation and share simple techniques that users can adopt to verify information they receive on their social messaging platforms. A total of 3,138 respondents answered questions for the survey. 

Findings and more

On a given day, as many as 79 per cent respondents said they spend up to two hours on WhatsApp, about 13 per cent said they spend 3-4 hours, while 3 per cent said they spend more than 7 hours on the messaging platform every day.

When it comes to information shared on the platform, the media matters. As many as 42 per cent of the respondents said they find it easier to believe a piece of news if it is accompanied by a video. Another 39 per cent said they don’t find it hard to believe information if received via plain text, in messages or in newspapers or other platforms. 

Fifteen per cent said they trust images more. 

“It is interesting to note that a number of participants believed that morphing a video is much more difficult than an image. Hence, the credibility of videos is usually more in their minds,” the report said.

Messaging platforms are the first exposure to the Internet for the people in rural areas. DEF cited the example of a villager in Uttar Pradesh who thought WhatsApp comes pre-installed on smartphones. He felt cheated and tried to return his new smartphone when he couldn’t find WhatsApp, claiming it wasn’t working. India is one of the largest markets for Facebook-owned WhatsApp, with over 200 million users. 

While 13 per cent are part of no group, a majority of the respondents – 53 per cent – said they were part of one to five WhatsApp groups, 18 per cent part of 6-10 groups, and 4 per cent are in more than 30 groups. 

WhatsApp had come under fire in India last year, over several instances of “fake news” or spread of misinformation. In 2018, many people were killed by mobs that were fuelled by rumours spread on WhatsApp. 

However, when asked if they thought viral messages on WhatsApp could lead to incidents of unrest, 66 per cent voted in the affirmative while 20 per cent were unsure. Only 13 per cent said viral messages on WhatsApp cannot lead to violence offline “since offline violence usually requires more coordinated efforts offline.” 

In response to the question, “Do you think messages on WhatsApp are free from surveillance by the government or messaging app?, as many as 46 per cent of the respondents said the channel is not free from surveillance, 26 per cent were unsure and 25.6 per cent said that their messages were secure between the receiver and the sender.

Platforms like WhatsApp, which rely on end-to-end encryption, said tracing the origin of a message would mean breaking encryption and undermining user privacy. 

Encryption, or the practice of scrambling data to make it unintelligible for even the service providers, has been an important tool to prevent the government from snooping but has equally been abused for the spread of fake news.

As many as 64 per cent said they did not know what it means for a message to be “encrypted” and 14 per cent said they had come across the term “encrypted” in the media or elsewhere, but weren’t sure if they truly understood the meaning of the term. Only 22 per cent of the respondents said they knew what encryption means.
Text Truths
  • 55% respondents were students in the 16-20 age group
  • 50% respondents said they just read a forwarded message, 17% ignore it and only 1% forward it 
  • 43% felt they do not receive useful information on WhatsApp


40  workshops conducted in 20 districts in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Tripura, West Bengal and Telangana, to conduct the survey

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