WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!

A few days back, I received the following WhatsApp message from a friend who is in her late forties:
In a few seconds, I’ll forward a ‘joke’ to you. The ‘joke’ itself is so disgusting, it makes my blood boil! What’s unbelievable is this ‘joke’ was sent to me and to other female friends of similar age by Sheila.
IMPORTANT: Please ensure Sheila doesn’t get to know that I sent you this crap and told you that she had sent it to me.

As promised, she forwarded the ‘joke’ to me a few seconds later:
Son: Dad, yesterday, I saved a girl from being raped. 🙂 🙂
Dad: Good! That’s my boy! How did you do that?
Son: I convinced her! 😉 😉 😉

I was shocked! Sheila is the mother of a 22-year-old daughter. She had forwarded this ‘joke’ to women who are all in their forties or fifties and who have young daughters and/or daughters-in-law.

I don’t know whether the other recipients of this ‘joke’ enjoyed it or whether it made their blood boil. But I just couldn’t digest the fact that Sheila had forwarded it. I do not know her well, but I am acquainted with her. From my limited interaction with her, I had found her to be a sensible and well-mannered person, definitely not the kind of person who would have circulated this ‘joke’. I was itching to telephone her and ask her for an explanation, but I couldn’t do that due to the last line of my friend’s first message.

I think that Sheila either forwarded the ‘joke’ without really understanding it or without reading it, thinking she was doing something ‘cool’. In either case, she was being extremely irresponsible. Rape is definitely not a subject to be joked about.

A day later, I read this Firstpost report that “Karnataka Health Minister UT Khader has asked the District Health Officer of Dakshina Kannada to lodge a complaint with the cyber cell police in Bangalore against persons spreading rumours on social media claiming Ebola virus had entered the city.

Some people had spread a WhatsApp message last month that a student had died at the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka (NITK) at Suratkal, near Mangalore, after being infected with the Ebola virus, even after the doctors treating him confirmed that he died of lung disease.

Khader directed DHO HS Shivakumar to file a complaint to bring to book the pranksters who misused technology to create panic and confusion, officials here said.”

I completely support Mr. Khader’s action, provided it is not misused by the police or by politicians. In fact, I think concrete steps must be taken to control indiscriminate circulation of misinformation and/or insensitive ‘jokes’.

I believe in freedom of expression. I also believe that freedom of expression carries with it the responsibility to avoid creating problems for others.

The fact that it costs nothing to send a WhatsApp message doesn’t mean one can circulate any crap!

Let’s not forget the name is WhatsApp, not WhatsCrap!

Freedom of expression?

In a restaurant one evening, a middle-aged man was speaking on his mobile phone, loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the restaurant. The Indian language he was speaking in is not commonly understood in that part of the country, but I happened to know the language very well. I was shocked to hear him use the filthiest possible words and expressions. From the shocked looks of some of the other persons present, I realised that they also understood the language. Just as I started protesting to the Restaurant Manager, the middle-aged man stood up and walked away.

I have had similar experiences in different parts of our country. In all fairness, this kind of behaviour is ‘region-neutral’.

I have also come across groups of people talking loudly in Indian languages, which they think others don’t understand, at various public places in India and abroad. Not only do they speak loudly, which is bad enough, they often use commonly understood obscene gestures and swear words in their language, and in Hindi and in English as well!

Sometimes they are intoxicated, but often they are perfectly sober.

While we all enjoy freedom of expression, why don’t some of us remember that freedom of expression does not give us the right to throw verbal garbage at others?