By Elton Gomes
Messaging service WhatsApp announced on Wednesday that it will be launching an awareness drive through the radio to prevent the spread of fake news. The messaging app said that 30-second messages will air as advertisements on various radio channels in Hindi. As part of the drive, people will be told to verify any news before forwarding them.
This radio drive by WhatsApp will be conducted in association with the All India Radio (AIR) in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. The message will be initially delivered in Hindi and then in various regional languages. People who receive provocative messages will be asked to report the issue to the authorities, and they will be cautioned against forwarding any such message.
The radio messages urge Indian users to check the forwarded labels on WhatsApp messages so as to determine their source and authenticity. “Through this radio campaign, WhatsApp urges users to be cognizant of the messages they receive and be mindful before forwarding. WhatsApp stands committed in its efforts to address these issues jointly with civil society, stakeholders and the government,” WhatsApp said in a statement, Digit reported.
What has WhatsApp done in the past to tackle fake news?
After noticing a rise in the lynching incidents across India, WhatsApp rolled out several new features in a crackdown on fake news and to prevent the spread of misleading information, videos, and messages.
Labelling forwarded messages
WhatsApp began labelling messages as “forwarded” in an attempt to curb the spread of fake news. The forwarded label works for photos, videos, and text messages, thereby making it easier for users to identify where a message has come from.
More control to group admins
WhatsApp Group Admins now exercise a greater amount of control in terms of who can send messages to a group, change the group photo and description. These features will be important for large groups on the platform. As a group admins, one can make co-admins as well, thereby giving power to a selected few trustworthy individuals.
Suspicious link detection feature
WhatsApp also tested a ‘suspicious link detection’ feature wherein users will be warned of a link that might contain a “combination of characters that is considered unusual”.
WhatsApp rejected the government’s demand to trace the origin of messages
WhatsApp’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Daniels recently met information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Prasad asked the firm to comply with Indian law and set up a local corporate entity that has a grievance officer. WhatsApp agreed to all demands, except for one.
WhatsApp said that it won’t agree to the government’s demand for tracing the origin of fake messages, as such a move would undermine the privacy of users. “People rely on WhatsApp for all kinds of sensitive conversations, including with their doctors, banks and families. Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating potential for serious misuse,” the Facebook-owned firm said, the Hindu reported.
What is the government doing to restrict the spread of fake news?
A high-level government panel discussed steps to curb fake news and misinformation. The issue was discussed by a committee of secretaries, which was formed after the spate of deaths due to lynching incidents from WhatsApp messages.
An opinion article in the Hindu noted that the government does not maintain any central data on public lynchings. In the absence of official data or even a substantive anti-lynching law, media reports then become the primary source of a narrative.
The rise of fake news on WhatsApp
Although it is difficult to estimate the exact origin, the first incident is said to be recorded in Assam when two men were lynched after they were alleged of being “child abductors.”
Nilotpal Das, an audio engineer, and Abjijeet Nath, a digital artist, were on their way to the hills in Assam when they stopped on the way to ask for directions. However, residents of Panjuri Kacharigaon suspected Das and Nath to be child abductors and bludgeoned them to death.
In another instance in Maharashtra’s Dhule, five men were beaten to death on suspicion of being part of a kidnapping gang. Rumours spreading via WhatsApp have led to deaths in Bidar, Palamaru, Kannur, and Tamil Nadu.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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