Messaging platform WhatApp has started an awareness campaign to help users identify and prevent the spread of false information, hoax messages and fake news, after the Indian government’s warning last week.
The Facebook-owned messaging service brought out full-page advertisement in leading newspapers, first in the series of its user awareness drive, giving “easy tips” to decide if information received is, indeed, true.
India’s Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had last week asked for greater accountability from WhatsApp, saying that the government will not tolerate any misuse of the platform to spread fake messages designed to “provoke” and “instigate” people. That was after multiple reports of mob lynching emerged across the country triggered by fake videos and messages being circulated on the platform.
In response, WhatsApp had informed the government that fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies “working together”.
To fight fake news, we all need to work together - technology companies, the government and community groups. If you see something that’s not true, make people aware and help stop the spread.WhatsApp
The latest campaign by WhatsApp outlines ways to spot false information including identifying forwarded messages, coaxing users to “double check” information, and using multiple sources to establish authenticity of a news or a photograph.
The full-page advertisements splashed across major dailies also nudged users to question information that is meant to instil anger or fear and to think twice before sharing such messages.
It cautions the users to “look out for messages that look different” and to watch out for signs like spelling mistakes in order to determine accuracy of information circulated. “Be thoughtful about what you share. If you are not sure of the source or concerned that the information may be untrue, think twice before sharing,”
WhatsApp also reminded its users that fake news “often” goes viral and just because “a message is shared many times, does not make it true”.
A WhatsApp spokesperson said that they are starting an education campaign in India on how to spot fake news and rumours. The first step is placing newspaper advertisements across the country in English, Hindi, and several other languages. The company will build on such efforts going forward, the spokesperson added.
Rumours on WhatsApp have triggered a spate of incidents involving mob fury, a recent one being lynching of five men on the suspicion of being child-lifters in Maharashtra's Rainpada village of Dhule district.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on July 2 had written to WhatsApp asking it to take immediate steps to prevent the circulation of false information and provocative content, and emphasised that the company “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”.