WhatsApp has rolled out a new “fact-checking feature” that checks the veracity of messages and helps in stopping the implicated spread of misinformation – keeping the vulnerability of India’s Lok Sabha elections at the centre.
Battling from becoming a breeding ground for spread of fake news and rumours has become the biggest challenge for instant messenger WhatsApp in India, especially with the Lok Sabha elections coming up. Recently, all social media platforms including WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook had agreed to take voluntary measures to implement “Code of Ethics” – aligned with the Election Commission‘s Model Code of Conduct for controlling social media political agendas and abuse ahead of Lok Sabha election starting from April 11.
In the latest attempt to combat rumours and fake news among 200 million active users in India ahead of the elections, internet-based instant messenger WhatsApp launched new “fact-checking feature” that checks the validity of information. WhatsApp has tied up with a local start-up Proto, which algorithmically classifies messages sent to the fact checker service by users as true, false, misleading or disputed. To step-up the service, WhatsApp will also build a database of such fake content to better classify and detect misinformation spreading on the app. However, the app’s end-to-end encryption feature sometimes masks away fake news messages from the oversight of third-party – including WhatsApp itself.
Since the fact-checking feature relies on real-time classification, its accuracy and capability to identify fake news for different issues, locations, languages and regions will increase with the influx of data. As per Proto, the aim of this project is to “study the misinformation phenomenon at scale – natively in WhatsApp”, and tackle fake news in India. Although centred on India’s forthcoming polls, the realms of the new feature will not be limited to elections, and Proto plans to send its findings to the International Centre for Journalists to help other organisations working to combat fake news in general.