WhatsApp ‘dance of the pope’ hoax tries to trick people into forwarding worrying false message

There is no such virus

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 07 March 2023 10:28 GMT
Pope Francis smiles at the faithful from the Popemobile in Santiago, on January 15, 2018
Pope Francis smiles at the faithful from the Popemobile in Santiago, on January 15, 2018 (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP via Getty Images)

Users are being sent disconcerting WhatsApp messages about the "dance of the pope" – despite the fact no such thing appears to exist.

The message warns people about the possibility of a virus, and tells them to send it around. As such, the warning itself is a kind of virus, spreading around the messaging app quickly.

It is largely harmless: it is just a warning, and the message contains only text, so cannot pose any real danger to the people receiving it. But it spreads unnecessary fear, as well as encouraging people to needlessly send it on to friends.

It is just one of a number of messages that flare up on WhatsApp and spread quickly by making recipients fearful about their safety.

The "dance of the pope" message has been around in one form or another for years. It is not clear how it began, or where it got its strange name from.

Some people are receiving the message that begins with a warning about the "Martinelli" video. That warning – which has been around for years – appears to be entirely fake, and there is no reason to worry about any such message.

It also includes a common reminder about "WhatsApp Gold", and urges anyone reading the message not to be taken in by scams promising it. For once, this message is not in itself a hoax: there really is a scam that promises WhatsApp Gold or WhatsApp Plus, and that is often used as a way to trick people into downloading malicious software or otherwise trick them into believing in scams.

But the "Pope" message then also goes onto warn about another video, and urges people to pass it on.

"Please inform all contacts from your list not to open a video called the 'Dance of the Pope'," a representative example reads. "It is a virus that formats your mobile. Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this msg to as many as you can!"

The call to share the wording that comes at the end appears to have worked, and the message has been passed quickly across WhatsApp and beyond.

There has been no such announcement of any kind of virus on BBC radio. The rest of the message is so vague that it is impossible to know what it really refers to, but it does not appear to be linked to any real threat.

Experts caution that users should be cautious about any files they receive over messaging apps, especially if they come from unknown people or have strange wording or names attached to them. But there appears to be nothing specific to be worried about in relation to the "Dance of the Pope" video.

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