Why I don't trust WhatsApp screenshots

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 10:18 PM

Sometime back, we decided — for most part — to turn our backs on old-fashioned one-on-one engagements/conversations in favour of messaging services. As life as we knew it moved from the realms of reality to a virtual black-hole, it was only a matter of time before gossip would follow suit.

And it did. These days, if you chance upon someone’s WhatsApp feed lying open, you may be shocked — or not so shocked — to see the kind of information being bartered.

But here’s the interesting bit. Gossip of yore tended to be at face value. One could always deny the repercussions, the stuff that happens when the cat is let out of the bag. Consider this exchange, circa year 2002, sitting across a coffee table or a carom board:

X: “I heard you said nasty things about my spouse at a gathering… someone told me.”

Y: “I did not. Did not.”

X: “Even I didn’t believe it at first, but this someone swore that you did.”

Y: “I also swear I didn’t.”

There used to be an impasse. It was up to you to decide which version you’d lap up.

Today, it’s different. Because there is solid proof in the form of screenshots. If you are saying mean things, or simply gossiping, there’s a very good chance that the person on the other side is taking screen shots of the thread: the leverage that’s jimmied to wreak havoc. One simply has to ‘share’ the screen shot with a simple line: “This is what XXX is saying about you.”

At times, it is taken one step up the value chain. I had heard of this incident a couple of years ago, and I found it unbelievable mostly because it required so much effort. Hear me out. There was this person, let’s call him Tom Allen. He owned two phones — as many of us do, nothing remarkable about that. He would change the name on his second WhatsApp number every time he wanted to play foul. Now, say, Tom has an axe to grind with one Jim Carpenter. So, he goes to his second phone’s settings, and edits the name, makes it Jim Carpenter. He secures Jim’s photo from Jim’s WhatsApp chat box and puts it as the display picture. Then he messages himself on the first phone. If you open his first phone, you will see Jim has sent an incriminating message. Tom takes a screen grab of that message, and sends it across to several others. Technically, it’s Jim who has been spreading vile canards about certain people. He had messaged Tom with these inputs. Tom, being the do-gooder that he is, is now doing others a favour by implicating Jim as a low life.

When I heard this story, I obviously wanted to know what would have happened if any of the forwardees had checked with the real Jim Carpenter. “He would have denied it,” I was told. “But who would expect the ‘culprit’ to own up to the mistake?”

Of late, I’ve been hearing a lot about screen shots being “shared”. I’ve become hyper careful about what I write to others: nothing should read even as being ‘interpretative’. Which is why I recently pinged a friend to tell him “I wanted to tell you something but I am scared to put it down in writing — I’ve been told there’s a screenshot sharing trend in evidence.”

“No, no, don’t write anything,” he messaged back, “I know exactly what you mean.”

We decided to let gossip remain old-fashioned and meet at a coffee shop. In person. With the cupcakes leaving no breadcrumb trail.


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