WhatsApp on Tuesday launched an India-focused fact-checking feature to combat fake news and rumours starting with the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The initiative comes a day after Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, took down over 700 pages linked to individuals that it said were associated with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party for spamming other users.
The messaging platform said that its Indian users, numbering more than 200 million, can now report uncertain information or rumours they have received to a WhatsApp number (+91-9643-000-888) and check its authenticity.
The response will indicate if information is classified as ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘misleading’, ‘disputed’ or ‘out of scope’, and include any other related information. WhatsApp will review pictures, video links or texts in Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam and English.
Developed in collaboration with India-based media skilling startup PROTO, the tip line feature will help create a database of rumours to study misinformation during elections as part of a research project commissioned and assisted by WhatsApp.
“The challenge of viral misinformation requires more collaborative efforts and cannot be solved by any one organization alone. This combined effort by WhatsApp and industry organizations will help contribute to the safety of the elections, by giving people means to know if the information is verified and deter people from sharing rumors that have no basis in fact," WhatsApp said.
“As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, e. The verification reports we send back will encourage our grassroots-level ‘listening posts’ to send more signals for analysis," said PROTO founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasrul Hadi. PROTO said it will also encourage grassroots organizations to participate.
The Indian group will be helped by two international firms, Dig Deeper Media and Meedan, which have previously worked on misinformation-related projects globally, including during the elections in Mexico and France.
“The research from this initiative will help create a global benchmark for those wishing to tackle misinformation in their own markets," said Fergus Bell, founder and chief executive, Dig Deeper Media.
WhatsApp faced severe criticism after lynching incidents followed the sharing of fake news on the platform.