We have all played game of Chinese whispers sometime or other, haven't we? And we all know what repercussion of relay of wrong information are, just too well. Facebook owned instant messaging service WhatsApp, of all social media channels, is the most culpable medium and the biggest victim of such information misrepresentation - simply because it is today the most penetrative of all the channels. When we say penetrative, it has contributing factors - reach of the medium, ease of information dissemination, anonymity of source of information and speed of message broadcast. These make WhatsApp a force which can trigger information explosion.
What is Alarming
We are aware about the recent unfortunate incidents about mob lynching based on rumors spread through social media, specially WhatsApp. This is neither a very recent phenomena nor a local one confined to India. Social media has typically been a means to propagate any idea, plan any action or congregation in the recent past universally. What is new is the exponential speed & impact of the medium and the insufficiency of conventional command and control mechanisms of the governing authorities.
Let us first ascertain how exactly WhatsApp is manipulated to create turbulence. Following are few of the challenges that the user as well as the company face today.
WhatsApp has themselves taken cognizance of the potential threat time to time and have taken few initiatives.
Product Control: There is a feature where one can block anyone from messaging himself with just one tap. And if someone who is not in your address book sends you a message, WhatsApp automatically asks if you want to block or report that user. New protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left has been added two months back. Only last week, a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups has been added.
A battery of new control features is lined up to be launched. A new label in India is being tested that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages. Machine intelligence is being developed for monitoring, analysis and strategy making.
Information Authentication: During the recent Presidential election in Mexico, WhatsApp worked closely with the news consortium Verificado. Users sent thousands of rumors to Verificado's WhatsApp account and in turn were provided regular updates on what was accurate and what was false.
In Brazil, they are now working with 24 news organizations on a similar program - the learnings from our experiences in both countries will help them fight fake news in India. In India, the fact checking organization Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published numerous important reports on the source of the rumors that have contributed to the recent violence.
Below are few recommendations we feel will go a great way to curb this menace if implemented earnestly. As WhatsApp said in their response to the letter from Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) which was written to the enterprise in wake of recent rioting attributed to fake news, it is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together.
Remember, freedom comes with a price. We all must be happy to pay that small price to trade peace and welfare for our nation.