(JTA) — A representative from WhatsApp, the popular messaging platform, says that viral messages spread on the app warning about potential cyberattacks targeting Jews are a hoax.
The warnings appear to have begun circulating since Saturday on multiple online platforms, NBC News reported. On Saturday evening, crypto influencer Scott Melker posted the warning on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, urging his followers to share the post. Melker has nearly one million followers on X and a verified account on that platform from which he can make money.
“No idea if this is true, but better safe than sorry,” Melker wrote. “Warning coming out of Israel re cyber attacks:”
The warning claims hackers will try to get WhatsApp users to download a file through the app called “Seismic Waves CARD” that enables phone hacking within 10 seconds. Melker’s post has been retweeted 200 times and has been viewed 250,000 times. The warning has since been posted nearly 30 times on X and has also spread to other social media and messaging platforms, according to NBC News.
Emily Westcott, a communications manager at WhatsApp, which is owned by Meta, told multiple news outlets that this kind of hoax had circulated before. She pointed to a previous statement by the company, made to fact-checking website Snopes, that said similar messages related to the September earthquake in Morocco were also false.
The spread of the hoax plays off of fears of spyware in victims’ phones, a problem that has cropped up in the past but is rare. In 2019, researchers learned that Israeli cyber-intelligence company NSO Group had found a vulnerability in WhatsApp’s code and created spyware that was able to infect cell phones through the app’s voice calling function. The spyware allegedly targeted 1,400 users, including journalists, attorneys, human rights activists, political dissidents, diplomats, and other senior foreign government officials, according to a lawsuit brought by WhatsApp against NSO. According to several reports, NSO’s products played a role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Under Elon Musk’s leadership, X has come under heavy criticism for its relaxed approach to content moderation and misinformation. Musk himself has engaged with posts spreading conspiracy theories.
On Sunday, Musk recommended that X users follow accounts known for promoting lies in order to stay updated on the Israel-Hamas fighting, before deleting the post. One of those accounts, the War Monitor, has also posted antisemitic content in the past, including a post saying, “the overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zionists.”
Old and repackaged videos from previous conflicts, video game clips purporting to be footage from the ground, and a false press release from the White House alleging the Biden administration had allocated $8 billion in emergency aid to Israel have also circulated on X in the days following the outbreak of the war.