WhatsApp launches fact-check service to fight fake news in India
WhatsApp has announced in a statement that it is working with Indian startup PROTO to build a database of rumors to study misinformation during the upcoming election period in India. This database will be complemented by a “tipline” wherein users can submit messages in order to have it classified as true, false, misleading or disputed.
WhatsApp users in India can submit uncertain information and rumors they receive to +919643000888, a service called “Checkpoint Tipline”. Once the message is received by the tipline, Proto’s verification center will attempt to respond and inform the user if the claim made in the message is verified or not. The response will indicate if information is classified as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope and include any other related information that is available. The center can review rumors in the form of picture, video links and text. It can cover English and four other regional languages (Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam). Proto will also encourage grassroots organizations to submit rumors circulating across different regions in India during the election period to the tipline.
“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. The verification reports we send back will encourage our grassroots-level “listening posts” to send more signals for analysis.”
WhatsApp said that Dig Deeper Media and Meedan, both of which have previously worked on misinformation-related projects around the world, are also helping Proto to develop the verification and research frameworks for India.
Reuters attempted to test the service by forwarding a message with false information to it. Even after two hours of delivery, the website was still awaiting classification on the message.
WhatsApp is also testing other means to combat the menace of fake news and misinformation, particularly in India, where rumors circulated on the messaging platform led to several mob lynchings and deaths last year. The number of users that a message can be forwarded to had been limited to five worldwide, and forwarded messages are clearly labelled as “forwarded”. Soon, messages forwarded more than four times will have a “frequently forwarded” label too. It remains to be seen how effective these measures will be, especially in light of the upcoming Lok Sabha 2019 elections in India.