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Debunked: No, WhatsApp isn't about to start charging users to send messages

A message circulating WhatsApp claims that the platform is going to start charging users from “Saturday morning”.

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A MESSAGE DOING the rounds on WhatsApp at the moment is claiming that the messaging platform will soon no longer be free to use. 

The message claims that from “Saturday morning” WhatsApp will begin charging users unless the recipient forwards the message onto 10 other people. 

Here is the message in full: 

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“If you have at least 10 contacts send them this message,” it urges people. 

It claims that if this is done, WhatsApp will see that the person is “an avid user” and that their logo will “become blue” and that their account will remain free. 

It goes on to claim that WhatsApp will cost “0.01ps” per message. 

“Send this message to 10 people. When you do the light will turn blueotherwise [sic] whatsapp will activate billing,” the message claims. 

For a start, the language and grammar used in the message raises a red flag. Officially, the messaging platform is branded as WhatsApp. As can be seen above, the message refers to the service in all lower case letters – “whatsapp”. 

Elsewhere in the message, words are grouped together, “When you do the light will turn blueotherwise whatsapp will activate billing”.

It is also claimed that the message will cost “0.01ps”, with no clarification as to what currency that refers to. 

Furthermore, the message does not clarify what date the supposed billing will be implemented on, instead vaguely referring to “Saturday morning”. 

So, is the claim in the message false? 

WhatsApp outlines in its “about” section on its website that “WhatsApp is free and offers simple, secure, reliable messaging and calling, available on phones all over the world”. 

In the FAQ section of its website, WhatsApp again states that it is free to send messages on its platform. 

“WhatsApp uses your phone’s internet connection (4G/3G/2G/Edge or WiFi, as available) to send and receive messages to your friends and family. You don’t have to pay for every message,” it says. 

“As long as you haven’t exceeded your data limit or you’re connected to a free WiFi network, your carrier shouldn’t charge you extra for messaging over WhatsApp.” 

WhatsApp does clarify, however, that additional mobile data charges may apply if a phone is “roaming”. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie regarding the message, a spokesperson for WhatsApp said that “this rumour is entirely false”. 

WhatsApp is a free service which does not currently or plan to charge users to send messages or make audio or video calls. We encourage all users to check facts before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them. 

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WhatsApp has in recent weeks launched a ‘coronavirus information centre’ on its website. 

Here, the messaging platform urges people to “think about messages that you receive, because not everything you are sent about coronavirus may be accurate”. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie  

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