Is this true? Where or from whom did you hear about this? Did you see this yourself? Were you there when this happened? These are just some basic questions that one can ask the sender of information on WhatsApp before they decide to hit on the forward button themselves.

This is easier to do now as the messaging app has introduced a forward tag to identify messages that are being circulated on its platform.

On an average people on WhatsApp participate in 63-65 conversations per day, according to a February 2018 study on WhatsApp Usage Patterns and Prediction Models without Message Content by Avi Rosenfeld and colleagues for Israel’s Bar-llan University. These conversations could be on a one-on-one basis or as a part of a larger group.

A good 70% of these conversations is a two-people conversation, said the study. However, larger groups had disproportionately larger number of messages, it noted.

The study also delved into gender usage patterns and found that women send and receive more messages at 155 messages a day compared to men who sent and received 134 messages a day, a difference of 15%.

Of the messages, women sent 46 messages a day and received 109, while men sent out about 30 messages a day and received 104.

There are approximately 200 million number of WhatsApp users in India. Even while a majority seem to distrust the information received over WhatsApp, a sizeable section of users, close to 30% have faith in what they encounter on the messaging app, according to a Plain Facts report in Mint by professor Sanjay Kumar of CSDS and Pranav Gupta, researcher Lokniti-CSDS.

Also interesting to note is that most people, according to Rosenfeld’s study act—forward or reply within a minute of receiving a message.

The numbers are telling. Think of the many times you got the same message on multiple groups and that too within minutes of it being reported as a new development. It is no coincidence.

Now think of the people who forwarded the unbelievable video or message. In a normal face to face conversation, imagine them telling you the same story, would you believe them? Do you believe their communication when it comes as a message on WhatsApp group. The answer may differ for the different mediums.

Or take another scenario. Imagine yourself standing at the corner of the street or even sitting in your living room and distributing hate pamphlets to every passerby. Would you do it? Probably not. Not even if you were paid. However, when it comes to forwarding unbelievable content on WhatsApp, it doesn’t require much thought.

Social media has changed the way we communicate. The basic act of how we talk, listen, interpret and respond to each other has moved from face to face, to faceless— voice conversations over telephones and mobile phones to impersonal conversations over social media.

However, unlike social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter which are open platforms, WhatsApp feels personal.

A post on WhatsApp is different from a post on Facebook or Tweet on Twitter, it comes as a private chat or on a private group. These groups usually have at least one or more people that you personally know and probably also trust.

The social medium rewards users for every post with likes, comments or even message read counts. This feedback is addictive. It engages and encourages users in repeating their behaviour.

Technology companies are taking steps to address our digital wellness amid growing concerns about their roles.

Earlier this month, WhatsApp published full page advertisements across leading dailies to tackle the spread of misinformation for the first time. Likewise, Google and Apple are also looking at ways to address the growing customer concern about spread of fake news, device and social media addiction.

However these are just basic steps.

Forwarding on WhatsApp, is fast and easy perhaps also safe as we do it in closed groups. Yet, the consequences, as we have seen with the mob lynching are real.

These consequences, says N.S. Nappinai an advocate specialising in cyber law, need to become personal to the user who is part of spreading the misinformation. This requires a new legislation which not only honours our rights to free speech and privacy but also adequately deals with the disruptive ways of our new age communication.

What we really need though is for users to take ownership. But that perhaps is a missed opportunity.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.