Don't Shoot the Message System for Feeding Israel's Rumor Mill

Whatsapp is indeed being used to convey unreliable and dangerous information these days, but it is the users who do the leaking who must be stopped.

WhatsApp. Dreamstime

The battle that's being waged to stop the false rumors being circulated via WhatsApp these days is about as relevant as a campaign to stop the human race.

Just like the text messages for pay that preceded it, and like Facebook, Twitter, ICQ, mass chain emails, conversations via land lines, snail mail, the invention of print, the telegraph, papyrus, cuneiform, messengers and gossip during the 10 o’clock break before the Bible lesson at school – WhatsApp is only another technological tool in a long chain that human beings have invented to transmit information, since time immemorial. And the content of that information can either be reliable, partially reliable or totally false.

As long as there are human beings on the planet, not only will there be wars, there will also be rumors. It doesn’t matter by what means they are transmitted. There’s nothing new about this except for the medium that does the transmitting.

The real problem of the establishment, which always aspires to control the means of conveying information and its content as much as possible, was and remains the human factor responsible for the leaks. Especially when it’s actually a matter of transmission of totally reliable information in real time – and not false and extremely confusing reports, accompanied by thousands of exclamation points.

For example, when a bereaved family in Israel received word this week about the loss of its son by means of a message sent to masses of Israelis via WhatsApp – the problem of course is with the person who leaked the original list of soldiers' names from the field, rather than with the technology that he used. After all, there have already been quite a few stories about families that received the terrible news by mistake from irresponsible journalists and even from well-meaning souls who jumped the gun.

No law, gag order or new instructions from the military censor – all of which have become very popular tools of the Israeli authorities in their growing battle against the free flow of information – will be able this time to totally defeat or even to somewhat reduce the use of WhatsApp.

Organizations such as the Israel Defense Forces can only strengthen its educational efforts and the discipline among its ranks to thwart the leakers (for example, soldiers who disseminated the pictures of the coffins), and to adapt its communications strategy to the new reality (for example, to accelerate procedures for issuing official military reports to the press, as was already done during the Second Lebanon War). And finally: to wait for what we need most of all – for mass literacy to do its thing, prudently.