Special: Spreaders and forwarders of some good cheer

Dubai - Christmas cheer should go around in the spirit of the season.


Allan Jacob

Published: Fri 25 Dec 2020, 6:52 AM

‘Spread it, spread it, spread it!’ screams a forward from a contact who believes he’s saving the world from bigots and fascists who’re out there in virtual la-la land. The man’s convinced they’re trampling on rights and wrenching freedoms away from people. He appears to be on some messianic mission to strike out against the digital balderdash, not realising he has fallen into the trap of conspiracy theorists who spread the baloney.

My contact is relishing the role of an online activist peddling videos and text messages by religious and political charlatans who sit in judgement and preach on viral morality from another corner of the world. Most forwarded videos I receive are silly theories spouted by White evangelists who claim the liberals stole the US election from Donald Trump. Other videos are about some elections in India, and honest-to-badness politicians.

I am angry and irritated by these clips, but decide not to block the man for his pent-up fingering frenzy. But just as I am settling into watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, I get a flurry of forwards from my dad who’s on one of his digitally charged trips during which he dumps every clip he gets into a family group that he and I share. He finds them funny and thinks everyone in the group is a fan.

I message and warn that I would shut him out if he continues with this behaviour. “Did I send them to you, what’s your problem…the others like them,” he counters, defiant as ever. The thing is, my dad has no time to respond to important messages that I send; the ‘mundane’ ones like ‘how is your health’, or do you need me to order the stuff online for you?’. I realise he is on fast-forward mode so I call him in India in my bid to make him take me seriously about this forwarding business.

This is often unchartered territory where uncomfortable silences reign. His defences are up and he’s in one of those moods and I’d rather not push those emotional buttons that could threaten a father-son relationship, so I sigh and give up. Soon he’s back in his element as he talks to the kids.

Meanwhile, I am watching a video that’s been shared by many groups. It comes with a message that it’s been forwarded multiple times and even appears on the same group that my dad and I are part of. I click on it and as the conversation unfolds, I can’t hold back a hearty laugh. If you haven’t seen it, check out the one about Santa ‘confessing’ to being a communist who’s made a foray on his sleigh into Russia and is being questioned by stern officers. WhatsApp doesn’t allow me to forward the clip since it has swiped its way clean through millions of smartphones before reaching mine. But that doesn’t make a dent on the humour that it contains.

I download the clip and send it to three more people who I think would laud me for putting a smile back into their dreary lives. I wait for a response, twiddling my fingers. One long minute later, I receive the first response — a guffawing smiley; another says I am being ‘joyous’ these days, while someone else claims he has seen it before.

WhatsApp controls the number of spreaders — it limits the joy five times. I’ve spread it three times already. My fingers are itching to send them to more people on my contacts list, but I resist the temptation. Not all forwarding is bad, says Facebook, the owner of the world’s favourite messaging service taking the moral high ground.

WhatsApp delivers 100 billion messages daily and continues to grow with more than two billion users. The social media giant knows everything and sees everything we are doing. It’s almost omnipresent. “We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections, or prayers they find meaningful.” Yes, WhatsApp and Facebook ‘know’. What’s the word….omniscient. I console myself by saying that I’m not spreading anything dangerous. No sir, I am not a super-spreader, I am merely a ‘forwarder’ of virtual joy in these bleak pandemic times. Christmas cheer should go around in the spirit of the season.

— allan@khaleejtimes.com

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

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