WhatsApp offers fact-checking service for Indian users to combat fake news before election

Whatsapp says its 200 million customers in India forward more messages than any other country in the world

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 03 April 2019 13:47
Facebook set to merge Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger

WhatsApp launched a new fact-checking service in India to help combat misinformation in the run-up to the general election.

The new hotline, called Checkpoint Tipline, replies to information sent over by message saying whether it is true, false, misleading, disputed or presently unverifiable.

Texts, pictures, links and videos in English, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu and Malayalam can all be sent to Checkpoint on +91-9643-000-888 to check their veracity.

The messaging service said its 200 million customers in India “forward more messages, photos and videos than any other country in the world.”

India’s elections are scheduled to begin on April 11, with final results expected on May 23.

Social media has come under fire for how fake news can spread over platforms, often in a manufactured attempt to sway public opinion.

Major Indian political parties have also accused each other of propagating fake news on WhatsApp.

Checkpoint is the latest move in a series of steps taken recently by Facebook Inc. to combat fake news in India.

Facebook has removed over 1,100 pages, groups and accounts from India and Pakistan for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour or spam”, the social media giant said on Monday.

An investigation found fake accounts were used to spread criticism of political opponents and inflate engagement.

687 pages and accounts linked to India’s opposition party, Congress, were removed. Congress tweeted that none of these were official or run by verified volunteers.

A fake recording during heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after the Kashmir bombing heard the president of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say: “We agree that for election, we need a war.” Facebook removed the post, but not until it had 2.5 million views and 150,000 shares.

WhatsApp changed its settings in India last summer after rumours over child abductions, sent via the application, led to dozens being lynched. It reduced the number of possible shares a message could have from 250 to five, as well as removing a button that lets users forward information easily.

WhatsApp said it was working with local startup Proto to classify messages sent to the service by users and build a database of content to help understand misinformation.

End-to-end encryption on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp ensures all messages are private, meaning the company cannot oversee the content on its platform.

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