WhatsApp update: In the wake of Government of India’s stern warning to WhatsApp to stop the spread of hoax messages from its platform, the Facebook-owned service has announced a number of steps. The government’s warning follows the killing of several people across many states in the country. The killings were reported to be triggered by circulation of fake rumours about child lifting gangs. PM Narendra Modi-led Union government had told WhatsApp, “…such platform cannot evade accountability and responsibility specially when good technological inventions are abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”
Responding to the government’s warning, WhatsApp had said, “WhatsApp cares deeply about people’s safety, which is why we designed our app with security in mind…We also respond to valid law enforcement requests to help them investigate crimes.”
Here are some of the steps announced by WhatsApp:
1. Research grants for social scientists
WhatsApp has decided to offer research grants up to $50,000 (around Rs 34,37,250) to social scientists to help them curb combat spread of “misinformation” through its messaging service,” reports The Washington Post.
The Facebook-owned service has said in a statement: “WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem.”
As part of the first phase of the programme, the company is “commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp.”
Proposals have been invited from any social science or related discipline that “foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society”.
– “WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities.”
– “These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio.”
Who can apply?
– “Individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.”
No more mass spam!
The cross-platform messaging service has said that soon forward messages on WhatsApp will be clearly labeled from genuine ones. Also, mass spam will be blocked. WhatsApp is set to introduce a new feature that will help users differentiate between potential spam and a genuine message. In a statement, WhatsApp said the new feature will help users “serve as a signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages”.
– Soon, administrators on WhatsApp groups will be able to decide who can send messages within individual groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages, hoax and other content.
Public safety ad campaign
WhatsApp has said it plans to run a public safety ad campaign and will soon release educational materials about misinformation, conduct news literacy workshops.
Engagement with police
WhatsApp said in a statement: “And soon, we will start an engagement program with law enforcement officials around India so they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful.”