WhatsApp testing in-app search feature to fight misinformation around coronavirus

WhatsApp finds itself at the centre of fake news and misinformation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. The Facebook-owned messaging service is going all out to tackle that.

Fake news and misinformation have been the bane of WhatsApp for long. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, it is more dangerous than ever.

WhatsApp users have been wildly forwarding messages to their friends and families, and adding to the myths and speculations around the deadly coronavirus.

And despite its best attempts, WhatsApp has struggled to curb the sharing of unverified information related to COVID-19. So much so that Western media has dubbed the messaging platform a "petri dish of coronavirus misinformation".

Photo: Shutterstock

To put an end to this, the Facebook-owned service is testing a new feature that will let users check the veracity of a forwarded message.

The 'Search Messages on the Web' feature is available in WhatsApp beta for Android 2.20.94, and will be rolled out widely in the coming weeks. This tool will allow users to run a web scan on a forwarded message from within the chat window.

Some users shared screenshots of the new feature on social media, and also hailed it as "a decent move".

Users can put both text and audio messages through the verification test, and use the in-app search to get more context on the information shared.

Prior to this, WhatsApp had also launched a feature that lets users see the number of times a message has been 'forwarded'.

Last week, WhatsApp also announced a $1 million grant for international fact-checkers to set up a credible coronavirus information hub for health workers and regular users.

The Facebook-owned company is also working with the World Health Organisation and various local governments, including in India, to set up WhatsApp bots for instant dissemination of verified information.

At a time when more and more people are compelled to stay indoors to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission, WhatsApp has witnessed unprecedented surges in voice and video calling on its platform. The ubiquitous messaging service counts over two billion users globally, with 400 million in India alone.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)


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