WhatsApp takes to print ads to curb fake news in India



  • Today (10 July), most of India woke up to well-placed advertisements by WhatsApp in a number of leading newspapers aimed at educating people on how they can spot ‘false information’.
  • WhatsApp is also planning to roll out a feature that will help readers distinguish whether the message they read is a forward or something that has been typed out by the sender.
  • It is also working on a feature called ‘Suspicious Link Detection’ that will caution the reader if a link in the message received is leading to an unreliable website.
  • In a span of a little over a month at least 14 deaths across 10 states have been reported that have been prompted by false news being circulated on social media about alleged ‘child snatchers’.

    A spate of gruesome mob lynches mostly triggered by fake WhatsApp messages resulted in the Indian government sending the Facebook-owned messaging app a stern message last week to take action and curb the menace.

    Promptly after, WhatsApp responded by saying that it was “horrified by the violence” and said that measures will be taken under these broad headlines: Digital Literacy and Fact-Checking, Proactive Action to Tackle Abuse, Product Controls.

    True to their word, today (10 July), most of India woke up to well-placed advertisements by WhatsApp in a number of leading newspapers aimed at educating people on how they can spot ‘false information’. The well-worded ‘easy tips’ advertisement not only talked about spotting fake news but also urged readers to ‘think twice before sharing’ messages that are potentially untrue.

    It also cautioned readers to be wary of viral messages that they may have received multiple times, taking into account the general disposition of people who believe that if one has read the same thing multiple times it must be true.



    Apart from these public safety ad campaigns, WhatsApp is also planning to roll out a feature that will help readers distinguish whether the message they read is a forward or something that has been typed out by the sender.

    The company has also announced an awards program offering up to $50,000 per proposal to researchers who specialise in restricting false propaganda to come up with a solution to this problem.

    Next, WhatsApp is working on a feature called ‘Suspicious Link Detection’ that, as the name suggests, will caution the reader if a link in the message received is leading to an unreliable website. If the link in the message is ‘suspicious’, WhatsApp will add a red label to it.

    According to the Hindustan Times, in a span of a little over a month, from 20 May 2018 to 2 July 2018, at least 14 deaths across 10 states have been reported that have been prompted by false news being circulated on social media about alleged ‘child snatchers’.

    Ironically, the video linked to the fake message was a Pakistani ‘public safety’ video (see below) where two men in a bike swoop in and abduct a boy, however, the part of the video where they return the boy and the camera zooms into a banner that says ‘it takes only a moment to kidnap a child from the streets of Karachi...’ has been conveniently left out in the WhatsApp messages.

    In fact, the ‘news’ of 5000 kidnappers entering South India was also shared by various regional news outlets, further adding to the hysteria. This has naturally added to the woes of the police who are trying their best to quell the rumours.




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