To curb fake news in poll season, WhatsApp starts ‘tipline’

Updated on Apr 03, 2019 12:16 AM IST

WhatsApp has been at the center of controversy in India since last year after false messages spread on its platform sparked a number of mob lynchings.

WhatsApp has over 230 million monthly active users in India.(REUTERS)
WhatsApp has over 230 million monthly active users in India.(REUTERS)

Private messaging service WhatsApp has launched a new mobile helpline to check the authenticity of messages shared on the app, in the company’s latest attempt to curb the spread of misinformation and rumours in its largest user market ahead of the general elections beginning on April 11.

WhatsApp has over 230 million monthly active users in India.

On Tuesday, the company owned by Facebook said it was working with an Indian media startup, Proto, to indicate if the information shared by the user is true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope. “Starting today, people in India can submit uncertain information or rumours they have received to the checkpoint tipline on WhatsApp. When a WhatsApp user shares a suspicious message with the tipline, Proto’s verification center will seek to respond and inform the user if the claim made in message shared is verified or not,” the company said in a statement.

In addition, Proto’s verification center will help create a database of rumours to study misinformation during the elections. This center can review messages or rumors received in the form of pictures, video links or text and will cover four regional languages including Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam, in addition to English.

“If it is a known rumour, the user will get a quick response. If it is a new rumour, it will take some time for the verification center to determine if it can be verified,” a WhatsApp spokesperson added without giving a defined response time.The company did not share specifics on the number of queries received so far. Proto’s founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi said, “The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale — natively in WhatsApp. As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more.”

WhatsApp has been at the center of controversy in India since last year after false messages spread on its platform sparked a number of mob lynchings. In February, WhatsApp warned that political parties are not using the platform in the manner that was intended and warned them that it will ban accounts in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections if needed.

“We have seen a number of (political) parties attempt to use WhatsApp in ways that was not intended and our firm message to them is using it in that way will result in bans,” said Carl Woog, head of communications at WhatsApp, during a media briefing in New Delhi.

WhatsApp also released a white paper titled “Stopping abuse: How WhatsApp fights bulk messaging and automated behaviour” in February and said its top priority is to fight automated behaviour on the service. Globally, the company has removed over 2 million accounts a month for the past three, on account of bulk or automated behaviour. It has a global user base of 1.5 billion. Last July, WhatsApp introduced a label to identify forwarded messages and limited the use of these forwarded messages to up to five chats in India.

“Most people don’t know how to check the accuracy of a popular rumour doing the rounds on WhatsApp. This is a good measure because it provides a service which can be helpful in the case of popular rumours,” said lawyer and author of Privacy 3.0 Rahul Matthan.

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