Hoaxes circulating on WhatsApp have led to lynch mobs killing innocent people. The government wants WhatsApp to act, and WhatsApp wants the government to cooperate.
Shortly after the government ordered WhatsApp to curb the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation” on its platform, the Facebook-owned messaging service has written a letter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), stating it needs cooperation from government and civil society to fight the menace.
Fake news, with radically communal undertones circulating on WhatsApp, has led to a dozen killings by lynch mobs since May. WhatsApp said it is “horrified by these terrible acts of violence” triggered by the misuse of its platform. “We believe that false news, misinformation, and the spread of hoaxes are issues best tackled collectively by the government, civil society, and technology companies working together,” it wrote.
In response to the government’s statement that WhatsApp cannot “evade accountability and responsibility” on a problem as grave as this, the tech firm has outlined measures it plans to take to get to the bottom of the fake news problem in India - its biggest market with over 200 million monthly users.
WhatsApp said it would be working with leading academics to learn more about misinformation campaigns and how they catch fire on its platform. This will help it to come up with improved product features, give additional control to authentic users, label forwarded messages, and help block miscreants.
It will also start an “engagement programme with law enforcement officials”. Further, it is working with fact-checking organisations like Boom Live to track rumours and put an end to them. “As a starting point, we will soon publish new educational materials around misinformation, and conduct our news literacy workshops,” WhatsApp said.
It further wrote,
“In addition, 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 the content they received was written by the person they know, or if it is a potential rumour from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon.”
WhatsApp said it does block messages based on user reports because it cannot gauge the content of messages by itself. “We use Machine Learning to identify accounts 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,” it stated.