NEW DELHI: With misinformation spread on WhatsApp leading to killing of tens of people across the country and the government taking a note of the situation, the Facebook-owned messaging service says the company is horrified by terrible acts of violence.
The world’s widely used messenger, WhatsApp, taking cognisance of the Indian government’s concerns over the misuse of its platform for repeated circulation of false and provocative content will soon block mass spam from the genuine ones.
WhatsApp on Wednesday said in the reply to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) stated, “We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. This could serve as a signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if the content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else. We plan to launch this feature soon.”
We do have the ability to prevent spam, which includes some of the misinformation that can create mistrust and potentially violence. Because we cannot see the content of messages being sent over WhatsApp we block messages based on user reports and by the manner in which they are sent. We use machine learning to identify accounts by sending a high volume of messages (faster than any human could) and we are constantly working to improve our ability to stop unwanted automated messages.
We also respond to valid law enforcement requests to help them investigate crimes. And soon, we will start an engagement program with law enforcement officials around India so they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful. We also want to share best practices for how WhatsApp is used by local police as a resource for their community. For example, the police in Hyderabad have created a WhatsApp account that anyone can message with rumors that concern them. And by working with community leaders to get them using our latest features (see above), they can help keep their communities informed about hoaxes circulating locally. As we have already seen, this can help save lives.
The IT Ministry on Tuesday asked WhatsApp to take immediate action and ensure that the platform is not used for such malafide activities over the growing instances of lynching of innocent people owing to large number of irresponsible messages filled with rumours and provocation circulated on the mobile messaging platform.
WhatsApp, which has over 200 million monthly active users in India, listed several measures it is taking or has already put in action to control the spread of fake news and abuse on its platform.
“We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender.
“This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumor from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon,” the company informed.
According to media reports, over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp.
In Mid-May, said WhatsApp, it added new protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left — a form of misuse they thought it is important to correct.
“Last week, we launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations – as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content,” the popular messaging platform noted.
WhatsApp has also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation.
“The fact-checking organisation Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published some reports on the source of the rumours that have contributed to the recent violence,” the company said.
While WhatsApp messages can be highly viral, the way people use the app is by nature still very private.
“Many people (nearly 25 per cent in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than 10 people); and nine in 10 messages are still sent from just one person to another,” WhatsApp informed.
The company also asked to Indian government to talk further about the actions it is taking and its plans going forward.
“With the right action we can help improve everyone’s safety by ensuring communities are better equipped to deal with malicious hoaxes and false information — while still enabling people to communicate reliably and privately across India,” it noted.
WhatsApp also announced to soon start an engagement programme with the law enforcement officials across the country so “they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful”.