Is This Warning About WhatsApp Videos and an Update That Could Lead to Hacking Genuine?

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A WhatsApp message claims to warn users about videos called ‘Martinelli’ and the ‘Dance of the Pope’, as well as a message requiring users to update to a WhatsApp version named ‘WhatsApp Gold’.

According to the warning, opening the videos and updating to WhatsApp Gold would apparently hack the user’s phone beyond repair, and would also format their phones. The message further claims that the warning was supposedly announced on BBC radio and that those who would receive the message should forward it as many times as possible. The same message was shared on Facebook, where it is repeated word for word, and widely circulated as one of the Facebook posts with the message is seen to have been shared 175 times and another shared 147 times.

Background

WhatsApp is one of the top social media platforms, with two billion users globally. Hootsuite’s Digital 2020 report shows that WhatsApp is the third largest social media platform globally after Facebook and YouTube respectively.

The platform has however been criticised for having a ‘fake news problem’ due to the rampant spread of misinformation among users. Such includes fake government relief funds, a fake Safaricom promotion as well as a fake internet bundles giveaway that have previously been debunked by Piga Firimbi.

Verification

The WhatsApp message does not contain any links to the ‘Martinelli’ and ‘Dance with the pope videos’, or the WhatsApp Gold update said to pose a threat to users. There is also no such information published on the BBC news website, or the BBC Twitter and Facebook accounts, where details on daily programs and news are routinely posted.

A Google search reveals that the WhatsApp message has been making rounds for years. It was previously debunked in an article on the Full Fact website which indicates that the Martinelli video has been around since 2017 while the Dance of the Pope video has been online since 2015. There is no evidence that the Martinelli video exists. The warning about the Dance of the Pope video is also a hoax as it was in 2015 debunked on the Snopes fact-checking platform.

The WhatsApp Gold warning was on the other hand shared in 2016, according to a statement issued by a cyber crimes reporting center in the UK. The statement that was published on May 24, 2016 warned against downloading the WhatsApp Gold update as it contained malware. Ordinarily, WhatsApp automatically updates itself and would not require users to follow a link.

Verdict

A WhatsApp message claiming to warn users about downloading videos and a WhatsApp Gold update is FAKE.

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Linda Ngari