By Prarthana Mitra
WhatsApp is currently testing a “suspicious link detection” feature on the beta version of their Android app, to flag fake news that has wreaked a devastating killing spree across the country. More than 200 million people use WhatsApp in India, according to Business Standard.
Let’s back up a bit
Some of the world’s leading media organisations recently concluded that India is descending into mob rule. A spate of killings provoked by misleading WhatsApp forwards has resulted in over 30 deaths since April, and it has spurred both the centre and the messaging app company into action. The government has already directed the country’s police to infiltrate WhatsApp groups and recently announced they are recruiting digital volunteers to disseminate correct information and report on suspicious forwards circulating in their immediate community.
The Facebook-owned messaging platform, being used to propagate doctored videos and fake news, has already launched a feature that distinguishes original messages from those forwarded from other users. This prompts the user to double check before believing the text and think twice before forwarding it further, the company stated.
The move comes after the government urged the company to limit spam and use technology to stop the spread of fake news and misinformation through the platform. On July 19, the government demanded more stringent solutions to curb the growing social menace.
What will the new feature achieve?
The latest feature identifies suspicious rabble rousing links by scrutinising the characters and noticing unusual patterns in the web address shared, even if the domain looks realistic enough. The company’s website stated, “Spammers may use these character combinations to trick you into tapping on links that appear to go to a legitimate website, but actually take you to a malicious site.”
However, end-to-end encryption prevents the company from intervening and actually preventing the malicious link from being forwarded. The checks will take place on the user’s device and WhatsApp can only label the links as suspicious.
The full scale version is expected to roll out soon, with the company already mulling over another update that allows a message to be forwarded only five times by whoever receives it as a forward. That said, at the end of the day, Indian politicians must own responsibility in striking at the roots of what is fuelling mob paranoia and vigilante justice. Until then, we will have to keep our fingers crossed and hope these back-end damage-control methods work.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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