In the hundreds-strong WhatsApp group chats used by many members of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, fake news has become a contagion unto itself.
“MUST WATCH DR USES VAPE TO SHOW MASKS DON’T WORK,” blared one video recently forwarded in the discussion thread of a prominent Hasidic family based in the neighborhood of Borough Park, where coronavirus rates have spiked in recent weeks.
“BREAKING Jewish journalist Jacob Kornbluh was just found dead by the NYPD in his apartment in Brooklyn. Sources say it might be suicide,” read a false update another community insider relayed from a popular chat group on Monday, referring to the Jewish Insider reporter assaulted during a demonstration against new restrictions aimed at the outbreak there.
Kornbluh is very much alive, and declined to comment on the message besides calling it “stupid” and “unfortunate.” The source of the message, like several The Daily Beast consulted for this article, requested anonymity out of fear of getting targeted themselves.
Another image asserted in a mix of English, Hebrew, and Yiddish that unnamed religious authorities had issued a prohibition against testing for COVID-19.
In a community where the most devout may spurn television and avoid the internet, WhatsApp has long supplanted some local politicians and newspapers as the chief source of information. But experts and insiders say the platform is especially popular among the younger Hasidic men who have erupted in angry and even violent protests in recent days against new restrictions geared at spiking infection rates in their New York neighborhoods.
“It is the dominant way that the community is now getting its news,” said Orthodox Jewish political consultant Menashe Shapiro. “It has also become a