WhatsApp has launched a new tip line as it steps up the fight against fake news on the platform, ahead of the 2019 Indian Lok Sabha elections. The line, which is hosted by software and security firm Checkpoint, will be operated by Indian media skilling startup, PROTO. The tip line can be reached on WhatsApp at +919643000888, and can be utilised by any WhatsApp user under any suspicion of a piece of news being fake, manipulative or dubious in any nature. The service will be available for all content forms, with English, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam and Telugu being the five supported languages as of now.
Reports indicate that the tip line can be used for content of any kind, be it articles, photos or even videos. Once the information is reported on the tip line, PROTO will independently use its technologies to check for whether the piece of content qualifies as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of its verification scope. It is not yet clear as to exactly what technologies will be used by PROTO in order to verify the information, although similar fact checking and verification startups use advanced convolutional neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing and more to gauge information and tone of content in English and other languages.
Once a story is reported, users may also receive relevant information on the content that they shared on the tip line. While PROTO will be the operational unit of this fact checking research project, WhatsApp will provide technical support to the startup for better judgement of facts. The study on misinformation and fake news is being done for Checkpoint, and once completed, a report of the same will also be furnished to the International Council of Journalists to help more media houses better understand the nuances of fake news, and how to combat it.
WhatsApp, presently the most used messaging tool across the world, has a massive user base of 250 million active users in India. Having faced the issue of fake news from unverified sources that led to socio-political debacles, WhatsApp has so far been attempting to take steps in order to protect the sanctity of its platform. This is in line with Facebook’s decision to roll out a fake news filter two years ago, wherein it added an option for users to report suspicious articles to reduce misinformation on its platform, and take down content that attempts to spread propaganda. To report, users are required to tap on the ‘give feedback’ option, which pulls up a menu with multiple options such as violence, hate speech and suicide or self-injury, alongside fake news.
Vernacular language social media, ShareChat, has also partnered with news checking organisation, NewsCheck, for the same effect. With a large section of first-time internet users, ShareChat’s demographic is very different from that of Facebook’s and WhatsApp’s. As a result, ShareChat has taken the onus on itself to comb through content shared on its platform, and rely on its algorithms to identify posts that create polarising, inciteful reactions among users on its platform. However, users also reserve the ability to identify and report against a piece of content that appears to be unverified.
The Election Commission recently pulled up the social media services with significant presence in India, asking for them to take up greater responsibility against misuse of services. WhatsApp’s latest move comes in line with the Commission’s plea, and it remains to be seen how this affects the content that is shared on the platform.