WhatsApp: the necessary evil

As I sat in the office this week, wondering what to write in my Observatory column, I decided to look at the internet and its impact on my life to find a topic that moves me.
 
I went back into time before I had a smart phone that had a WhatsApp download and realised I had been invited to parties less often back then. 
 
WhatsApp groups are a mechanism to stay in touch with what friends are thinking and a way to keep active with groups of friends.  And my WhatsApp groups are no different.
 
Since I joined WhatsApp, every weekend there is an invitation to a party or a social get-together at the dam.
 
I have realised lately that every WhatsApp group I am in discusses a lot about drinking and alcohol more than any other topic, and that is disturbing. 
 
We use the WhatsApp platform to stay close to each other, but my worry is that we aren’t sharing positive ideas, or networking to share information or job tips, discussing major national or political issues or social challenges.
 
We aren’t discussing music, movies, or fashion.  We are not sharing job openings or even asking about each other’s health and worries.  We are mainly talking about going to parties and drinking.
 
I began to wonder that I might not be the only one in this social crisis.  Maybe there are young people out there sucked into groups that discuss things that are superficial and these impressionable people get the message that those lesser topics are the most important ones. 
 
I hope that such negative messages about drinking and partying are not the main thing going on in other people’s WhatsApp groups.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for WhatsApp to close down in the country (even if the Namibian government possessed that capability), I am discussing whether WhatsApp groups are negative or positive.
 
I can assure you that there are some great benefits from my different WhatsApp groups.  I believe that we must be able to use WhatsApp groups in productive ways rather than just using it for the entertainment part.
 
Sometimes one of my groups does discuss productive topics like job related issues, health issues, or we share advice and many other things which could be for the benefit of young people.
 

I know other people participate in WhatsApp groups from their work that I believe have benefited employees and employers.
 
WhatsApp has become an easier and cheaper way for many people to communicate with our loved ones as well.
 
Just like Facebook, WhatsApp has also made it easier for us to communicate with people beyond Namibian borders at lower prices.
 
However, I have begun to realise that too many young people would rather be in WhatsApp groups that are mostly filled with conversations about parties, sex and alcohol related topics.  But, what can be done about that?
 
A significant number of people seem to prefer to exchange nude pictures and porn videos on WhatsApp than focusing on things that would improve their lives. 
 
The sad truth about this is that there is no possible way to impose an age restriction on WhatsApp, and under-aged children are actually participating in groups of such a base nature.
 
One other disturbing thing I have noticed is the circulation of car accident pictures on WhatsApp. This is something which I find morally unacceptable.
 
It has happened that the family members or close friends of accident victims are active on a WhatsApp group and they learn that their loved ones are involved in the featured accident and the dead or mangled bloody bodies they are seeing are those of someone close to their hearts.  I can’t imagine that there is anything crueller than seeing something like that.
 
Unfortunately, there are few ways that parents can keep their young kids away from such information online. There was a recent article about parents purposely buying older model phones that have limited online capacity and giving those to their kids.  These phones cannot be used for WhatsApp or Facebook. 
 
Having a bit of fun is fine and WhatsApp (or Facebook) is not evil, but it can become dangerous and volatile when people misuse it and become involved in conversations and activities that don’t enrich and enlighten, but rather tear things down and cause confusion. 
 
If negative internet use gets out of control, then WhatsApp groups can end up having an impact on the growth of the country.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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