Who Is in Your WhatsApp Group?

Last week I was the admin for a WhatsApp group of RAFM professionals for about 30 minutes, and then I was unceremoniously booted out of the group completely. I never posted to the group, never asked to be an admin, never did anything to provoke my removal, and do not mind that I no longer belong. So why am I telling you this story? There is one simple reason: RAFM could be big, if it were not for all the people who want to keep it small, and this little tale helps to illustrate how the profession is being held back when it should be moving forward.

The story begins with me sharing lunch with an old friend and colleague in a bistro in central London, just before coronavirus stopped the world from turning on its axis. We were chatting about old times, as old friends do. We started talking about Commsrisk because this website has existed for almost as long as our friendship, and my friend pulled out his phone and showed a WhatsApp group he belonged to, and which had recently shared an old article I wrote about plagiarism in revenue assurance. My friend said some smart people belonged to the group, and he encouraged me to join. And so I did, though I cannot recall if he let me in or if somebody else made that decision. And so, for several months, I was notified of messages exchanged by this group for RAFM professionals, but otherwise never felt the need to interact… until last week.

Before I continue the story, it is worth observing why I never felt the need to post anything to that WhatsApp group for RAFM managers. This is the reason why. You are reading Commsrisk, as do many people. And if I want to share a story I can, whether it is my analysis of what is wrong with the CFCA’s global fraud survey, or me complaining that RA managers are treated worse than fraud managers, or an anecdote about meeting an old friend for lunch. I have always favored transparency over secrecy, and the global over the local, because there are too few people working in telecoms risk management, and the temptation to split them into small cliques is as counterproductive as it is common. Nothing bores me more than hearing the heads of six different associations pretending they need to work together, when the sole reason for having six different associations is to ensure six different people can be their own boss, and thus avoid the need to compromise with anyone else. Running this website for 14 years means I have no need to use WhatsApp to communicate my opinion. And my friend confirmed that other people will use WhatsApp and other communications services to share my point of view, even when I am unaware of it.

Last week one of the admins of the WhatsApp group, who is a serious professional for a serious telco, decided to turn me into an admin too. He sent a message immediately afterwards, saying he would be glad for me to increase the membership of the WhatsApp group by adding people I know through the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG). I never had time to respond, because literally 30 minutes later I was thrown out of the group. So having never paid much heed to this WhatsApp group, I suddenly gave it a lot of attention. Plenty of people have wanted to kick me out of plenty of groups, but always for the same reason: they have something to hide.

One of the problems with WhatsApp is that any admin can take total control of any group. Had I cared to kick other people out of that group for RAFM professionals then I could have, not that I would want to. As soon as I was made an admin, I could have removed all the other admins. There is a lack of control about who is in control. However, I have no need to exert control over WhatsApp groups, or LinkedIn groups, or all the other minor social media groups and associations that controlling people have controlled during the many years I have listened to people talk about controls. I have watched many of these groups come and go during the time I have run this website. Those groups may have started with high hopes, but I favor persistence. This leads me to a simple conclusion about the kind of person who first invites others to join a WhatsApp group for RAFM professionals, and then needs to push them out again. To use a technical term, such a person is a loser.

Think of it this way: you want people to listen to you, but not the ‘wrong’ people. In the real world, there will always be lots of people who disagree with you. And there are lots of disagreeable people. Maybe you do not want them making calls on your network, because they are fraudsters. Maybe you do not want them speaking at your conference, because they will bore the audience with their tedious sales pitches. Maybe they will steal your intellectual property or take credit for work you have done. But only a really pathetic individual wants an audience whilst trying to control who is in the audience. Somebody with confidence is not afraid of the ‘wrong’ people sitting in the audience, because they are not afraid of alternative points of view. But dictators, cultists and other miserable authoritarians wish to avoid scrutiny, because they know their arguments will collapse when challenged.

I soon discovered I was not the only admin who suffered the wrath of the petty autocrat who threw me out of this WhatsApp group. As I investigated the group by reaching out to other members that I know personally, I learned that every admin had just had their privileges revoked, apart from one. That man has a very fancy website which offers conferences, webinars, training and marketing advice. The home page of the website plays a video of hundreds of people walking around a trade show. But the following photograph explains why he would not like scrutiny from me.

Does this look like a big successful conference to you? As I have observed before, Falcon Business Research is the kind of conference organizer that claims top-notch international speakers will speak at their events even though they never invited them. And why would a conference organizer ever do that? Because they know that if they told the truth about who had agreed to speak, the audience would be even smaller than that pictured above.

Mohammed Abrar Baba calls himself the General Manager of Falcon Business Research, and he is the person who kicked me out of that WhatsApp group. His LinkedIn profile says the following:

Every year thousands of experts representing telecom companies, technology and service providers, governments, finance providers and consultants attend our conferences.

If you think he is being modest, let me emphasize that his profile draws attention to his roots in:

Blockchain, FinTech, RegTech, InsureTech, Artificial Intelligence, RPA, Additive Manufacturing, 5G, NFV/SDN, Telecommunications

All of this begs a question. If this guy is such a big shot, why is he spending time trying to control who has access to some rinky-dink cheap-ass WhatsApp group?

Like every fantasist who cannot make his falsehoods come true, he misses the point. Deception is its own trap. Every time people turn up to an event expecting to meet thousands of top experts, only to find themselves in a room of 12 people who were conned, is another occasion where 12 people decide to never do business with you again. It is only in cyberspace that such bullshit can be made to seem plausible, and only to those who know least. That is why tricksters and conspiracy theorists use the internet to spread fake news about telecoms fraud and use WhatsApp to encourage the burning of 5G masts.

If you want to tell the truth, then be bold, be public, and let everybody hear you. That is why I routinely encourage others to use Commsrisk to share what they know. But if you want to spread lies, then you cannot do it publicly, because somebody like me will call you out. That is why these people like to disguise their machinations within secretive committees, or pretend that gossiping is a good way to spread information, or want to hide from people who know what they are talking about and have a website that other people actually read.

So next time somebody asks you to join a WhatsApp group that will teach you what is really happening in our industry, ask yourselves what you already know about the other people in the group. Are they dedicated to fighting fraud, or are they fraudsters? Are they a captain of industry, or just the king of a WhatsApp group? Will they tell you what they know, or do they put more effort into hiding information from you? If you want big, bold and transparent risk management, then gravitate to the people who are big, bold and transparent. The alternative will never be anything but small.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.