WhatsApp, working with Indian start-up Proto, launched a hotline where users in the country can report messages they deem untrustworthy, with the aim of studying the spread of fake news ahead of elections.
Proto launched a website for the project, called Checkpoint, where it explained the hotline number is mainly to collect information otherwise inaccessible due to encryption.
“The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale – natively in WhatsApp – during the Indian elections. As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more,” it stated.
Proto explained verification reports produced from the information will “encourage users to participate in this research as ‘listening posts’ and send more signals for analysis. The final output at the end of four months will help WhatsApp determine next steps against misinformation on the platform”.
Learnings from the project will also be shared with the International Centre for Journalists, a group dedicated to improving the trustworthiness of news reports globally.
Proto clarified the hotline is to gather data for research and is not a helpline capable of responding to every user, as some media reports stated. While it will reply to users when possible, and provide verification about the reliability of the original claim, it warned “this is not as intensive as the fact-checking that a journalism organisation can provide”.
WhatsApp has been under the spotlight following accusations political parties are misusing the platform ahead of national elections scheduled to take place in April and May.
In February the messaging app company reportedly rejected draft rules which would require tech companies to give the Indian government access to encrypted messages, but said it is using AI to ban suspicious accounts.
More security measures
A global privacy update WhatsApp announced this week is letting users decide who can add them to group chats. Previously, anyone could do this if they had a user’s number.
Meanwhile WhatsApp owner Facebook recently deleted 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan for “inauthentic behaviour”, many of which were linked to India’s opposition Congress party and Pakistan’s military.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back