The Facebook and WhatsApp applications' icons are displayed on a smartphone on February 20, 2014 in Rome. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP.

Hoax warning about 'WhatsApp virus' resurfaces online in Pakistan

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

Multiple social media posts shared in January 2021 claim that a malicious video entitled “Argentina” is circulating on WhatsApp and will hack your phone within 10 seconds. Most of these posts attribute the warning to Pakistan’s National Information Technology Board (NITB). The claim is misleading:  the message is a hoax which has previously circulated in several other countries. Online archives show the NITB tweeted a warning about the hoax message on January 11, 2021 but later removed it.

“NITB Cyber Alerts,” reads a Facebook post shared on January 11, 2021 by Facebook page TechRupt, which has more than 100,000 followers.
“A malicious video named " Argentina" is circulating on WhatsApp that shows how the COVID-19 curve is flattening in Argentina. Do not open the link as it hacks your phone in 10 seconds & it cannot be stopped in any way.”

The post features a poster issued by Pakistan’s National Information Technology Board (NITB). The title reads: “CYBER SECURITY ALERT.”

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on January 14, 2021

Similar posts with the same warning were also shared on Facebook here, here and here and on Twitter here, here and here.

The claim in the posts is misleading.

Deleted tweet

A keyword search on Google showed that the NITB removed its warning about the hoax message.

A digital archive of the NITB's tweet can be seen here on the Wayback Machine.

Screenshot of NITB’s tweet before it was removed

This article on a Pakistani blog features includes an embed of the original tweet which is no longer accessible.

A screenshot taken on January 14, 2021 of ProPakistani blog post

Global hoax

The same misleading warning message has previously circulated on social media around the world, including in Argentina, Nigeria, the Philippines and the US. AFP debunked the message as a hoax. 

Nigeria’s National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) dismissed the purported warning, saying it was “aimed at causing panic”.

"The message warns the recipient not to open a video file called "Argentina Is Doing It" as it will hack their phone in 10 seconds,” it said in a Facebook statement on July 18, 2020. "This message has been identified as fake.”