National

Spreading the wrong message: WhatsApp, Telegram groups forward pirated e-newspaper, e-magazine copies

Twesh Mishra New Delhi | Updated on August 19, 2020

The invites for joining these groups usually comes through online Resident Welfare Association (RWA) groups and other such platforms where a large group of people are already present   -  istock.com/alashi

Multiple groups on instant messaging and social media platforms circulate complete editions of newspapers and magazines to thousands of members

The country-wide lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 saw the mushrooming of a new set of newspaper and magazine suppliers. And the supply is free of cost.

Multiple groups on social media platforms are circulating complete editions of daily newspapers as well as fortnightly and monthly magazines. “These groups are becoming extremely popular as they circulate newspapers and magazines for free through WhatsApp groups. The invites for joining these groups usually comes through online Resident Welfare Association (RWA) groups and other such platforms where a large group of people are already present,” a representative of an independent body authenticating circulation figures of newspapers and periodicals in India told BusinessLine.

“This issue has been raised within government quarters as well as newspaper managements. It was first noticed in April-May 2020, and also flagged in the body. This activity remains illegal, but it is getting increasingly difficult to plug it, with faster internet and ease of access to mobile phones,” the representative said.

A WhatsApp group reviewed by BusinessLine that goes by the name of ‘News & Mags’ has diversified into around 20 more groups with each having some 255 members. Those handling these groups claim to upload around 300 documents per day into these groups. The group description says that the exercise is for networking purposes.

The groups had briefly fallen silent when the circulation department of one of the newspapers being pirated caught up with the culprits. But they soon spread into smaller fractions, making multiple WhatsApp groups and sharing the same newspapers and magazines.

Monetisation

Some of the magazines being circulated online also have advertisements that are not present in the original print. This means that those circulating these documents are also looking at making money from the exercise.

One such group reviewed by BusinessLine is on a Telegram broadcast channel that has over 16,000 subscribers. The Telegram channel, called ‘What’s News’, circulates at least six international newspapers everyday to its subscribers free of cost. The only other social media presence the group has is on VK.com, the largest social network in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

“We always cooperate with any magazine or newspaper, and if they reach out to us, we don’t upload their materials,” said an individual who identified himself as John Smith (a very common fake name on the internet). He said he is circulating these newspapers to help people learn other languages.

“The larger newspapers may be concerned about losing out on circulation revenues, but many smaller papers are looking at this as an opportunity to gain market share. A top management official of a prominent newspaper with close to 1.5 million readers said that e-paper circulation is an opportunity to gain more readers and have even asked others to spread them,” said a sector watcher.

Published on August 19, 2020

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