WhatsApp in bid to fight fake news during elections


WhatsApp in bid to fight fake news during elections

The goal is to classify messages sent to the service by users as true, false, misleading or disputed

Sai Sachin Ravikumar

WhatsApp has launched a service for Indians to check the veracity of information, in the messaging platform’s latest attempt to combat fake news in India ahead of national elections beginning this month.
WhatsApp said on Tuesday it was working with local start-up Proto to classify messages sent to the service by users as true, false, misleading or disputed. They would also build a database of such content to better understand misinformation.
The move comes as WhatsApp, with more than 200 million users in India, battles criticism of its platform being used to spread misinformation, while social media companies across the board work to prevent the phenomenon, particularly during sensitive events such as elections.
WhatsApp owner Facebook said on Monday it had deleted 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan for “inauthentic behaviour”, adding that many were linked to India’s opposition Congress party and others to Pakistan’s military.
The first phase of India’s elections are scheduled to begin on April 11, with the final results expected on May 23.
Major Indian political parties have accused each other of propagating fake news on WhatsApp while denying they do so themselves. In February, a senior WhatsApp executive said parties were trying to use the app in “ways for which it was not intended”.
WhatsApp had a similar challenge during Brazilian elections in 2018 when politicians had faced claims of spreading falsehoods on the platform.
“The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale,” Proto’s founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi said. “As more data flows in we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more.”
WhatsApp said Proto would be helped by two other organisations with experience working on misinformation-related projects.
“The challenge of viral misinformation requires more collaborative efforts and cannot be solved by any one organisation alone.”
The new service, Checkpoint Tipline, can receive messages in the form of images and video as well as text in English and four regional languages, it added. Checkpoint is a research project commissioned by WhatsApp.
Reuters received a message on WhatsApp containing false information and forwarded it to the service, and was still awaiting classification more than two hours later.
“Thank you, we’ve received your request and you should hear from us again shortly,” a reply said.
WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption allows groups of many users to exchange text messages, images and video beyond the oversight of independent fact checkers or even the company itself.
In July, the company introduced a measure limiting the number of messages a user can forward, a move aimed at curbing mass forwards in India, where the spread of rumours led to several killings and sparked calls for government action.
– Reuters

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