With the upcoming general elections only a few days away, social media platforms are feeling the heat. The Government of India has been scrutinizing them for months and it was only recently the “Voluntary Code of Ethics for the 2019 General Election” was presented to the Election Commission of India. Big names like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have agreed in the code of ethics that they will be taking all the measures possible to ensure that the platforms aren’t used for spreading fake news or malicious information. But there was one more name in the list that you might not be familiar with. It's ShareChat.
ShareChat is one of the biggest social media networks in India. With over 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store, the company has raised money on multiple occasions with Xiaomi being one of the top investors. ShareChat also claims to have over 40 million daily active users as of January 2019. The company also put a post on Medium last year saying that ShareChat has become the "go-to app for the vernacular Indian internet user to express his views or interact with others who may hold a similar or different viewpoint.” It is no surprise then, that this app was a part of the group of social media platforms that are working with the Election Commission of India (ECI) in a bid to regulate content and weed out potential fake news from the platform.
So what is ShareChat all about? Well, after using the app for just a few minutes, we figured this is where the plethora of WhatsApp forwards probably come from. You can perhaps visualise it as a gigantic (and perhaps annoying at times) family group on WhatsApp where posts are shared left, right and center. The main home screen includes sections like videos, fashion, love, education, WhatsApp, greetings and so on. Then there are various subcategories under the Search section which is also called ‘Khazana’ or treasure. Users can post all kinds of media from GIFs to videos to ringtones, you name it. There are also dedicated celebrity pages with Sunny Leone, Urvashi Rautela, and Shruti Hassan leading the charts by having the highest number of followers.
By default, you see a trending feed which shows the popular updates in the language you selected. One can quickly switch between languages by tapping on the ShareChat logo on the top left corner. Notably, along with the content, the app language changes as well. However, there is an option to choose either English or Hinglish for the user interface, which is sort of hidden inside the app settings.
The notable thing though is the dedicated button under each post to share on WhatsApp with a counter showing how many times that particular post has been shared. The amount of content shared is enormous and we noticed that there is more engagement in terms of sharing rather than having conversations. In a way, it feels like a chat platform, where nobody actually talks, but only post media.
But with so much content potentially getting shared on a daily basis, it becomes important to monitor the quality and the contents of each post. A humongous task that. The company has been pretty strict about moderation, and while we came across way too many ‘good morning’, ‘good evening’ and similar greeting posts, we couldn’t point out to any content that felt extreme in nature. It is clear that the company has implemented strong text and image recognition algorithms to flag-off content which seems ‘unfit’ for the platform. Users also get an option to report a post if they find the content offensive or bad in taste. Another security measure is that there is no anonymity for users, and each user has to authenticate their phone number with an OTP if they want to post, and their phone numbers are displayed to their friends on the network. This in a way takes away the veil of anonymity which many platforms allow, and that tends to give some people the license to spread fake news and misinformation.
We were quite surprised to see the huge community engagement and, like most social media platforms, politics is one of the hottest topics making it a perfect battleground for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. From the little time we used the app, we noticed that apart from being cringe-worthy, most of the posts around politics include memes, jokes, videos and so forth. Notably, we didn’t see any kind of abuse in posts or the comments sections. There are also numerous verified accounts from major parties although only some of them actually posted content on the platform, even after having a huge amount of followers.
All said and done, the app is still a huge potential for fake news and incorrect information. The app developers may have the tools to curate the content, but they cannot control the kind of influence a post has on the reader.