WhatsApp can be used to spread misinformation far and wide, which can have disastrous consequences for society.
WhatsApp forwards can be quite annoying. No one likes to receive random “good morning” messages or pictures of motivational quotes, and yet, we know that these are all harmless.
However, there is another category of WhatsApp forwards—false and fake news.
This category of “news” is the trigger for disaster, and has led to many untoward incidents. Well, NDTV reports that in a bid to combat the rampant spread of misinformation, WhatsApp has introduced a feature which will allow users to know which message(s) in their inbox are direct forwards from others.
The Facebook-owned company wants to clamp down on the circulation of spam and fake news on its platform, that has billions of users active worldwide, and more than 200 active users in India.
WhatsApp will also bring a fake-news-verification-model that was recently used in Mexican general elections to India. According to the Economic Times, a team comprising researchers and executives who oversee public policy, customer operations and business development would oversee the model.
On its part, WhatsApp has agreed to maintain high vigilance through its 200 million active Indian users. The Verificado model is a collective fact-checking exercise, deployed by WhatsApp during recent Mexican elections.
The messaging service is also implementing something similar in Brazil, where 24 media houses have converged to fact-check viral content and rumours.
WhatsApp has assured Indian political party representatives that adequate measures are being taken to spot spammy behaviour and that it would not allow spammy techniques or automated messages on the platform. Additionally, WhatsApp will also focus on upstream detection and weed out suspicious users at the registration stage itself.
It will do so by monitoring sequential numbers, who buy several SIM cards from a telecom provider at one go. WhatsApp will use tools to distinguish between good and bad users.
The feature of labelling forwarded messages was shown to Android beta users last month, who noticed that the new WhatsApp forward feature adds a ‘forwarded’ label to all forwarded WhatsApp messages. This will show you whether the content is from the sender or if it is just a forward.
WhatsApp also released a statement announcing the new feature, adding that user safety is paramount, and here’s what you should know about it:
1. Update the app to its latest version.
2. Check for the forwarded label, which sits on top of sent messages to highlight that they haven’t been created afresh for you.
3. There is no disabling option for this label, from your side or the sender’s side.
4. Both Android and iOS users will have this feature.
5. While the feature indeed helps in cases of mass forwards, it does not prevent a user from copy-pasting the content n the message, and sending it as a new message, ensuring no ‘forwarded’ label is there in that case.
To test out this feature, select any message and forward to another WhatsApp chat thread.
The damage fake WhatsApp forwards can cause, is out for all to see. Mob lynchings have happened solely due to hearsay forwarded on the messaging app.
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After the IT Ministry asked WhatsApp to curb the circulation of fake news on its platform, the app has been doing a lot to ensure users do not misuse the platform. It published ads in Indian newspapers, to make people aware of ways to understand fake news, and took the help of local experts, to fight the spread of misinformation.
This step is a welcome addition to the fight against the spread of fake news.