WhatsApp has informed the Election Commission (EC) that it will take various steps ahead of polls to prevent the misuse of its messaging platform, and bring to India its fake news verification model which has been used in other markets. Global executives of WhatsApp are already in India and engaging with policymakers on various issues that have been confronting the platform. “WhatsApp recently engaged with the Election Commission and political organisers in India to discuss best practices for using WhatsApp — as well as how to prevent misuse ahead of the election next year,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in an email response to PTI query.
The spokesperson further said that WhatsApp was built for personal and small group conversations and it has “always taken a strong stand against spam of any kind by banning accounts attempting to abuse our system”. A source said meanwhile that the messaging platform has told the EC that it will be watchful of spam messaging techniques ahead of the polls – both State and general elections.
The source said that officials from WhatsApp’s global team are in India and will be meeting policymakers over the next few days. WhatsApp has also told the EC that it will bring to India its fake news verification model – Verificado – that has already been used in Mexican elections and deployed in Brazil, the source said.
“This was recently used in Brazil in bringing 24 media outlets together to fact check viral content and rumours,” the source said. Senior team of officials over the next few days also plan to engage with policymakers and government officials, the person said, but did not divulge any details. WhatsApp today announced that its users in India will not be allowed to forward more than five ‘chats’ at once and the company will remove the quick forward button that appears next to media messages, as part of its efforts to reduce circulation of fake messages and hoaxes.
The forwarding restriction imposed for India is more stringent than globally, where it has been set at 20. The move comes after the Facebook-owned messaging platform, which boasts of over 200 million users in India, faced government ire over failure to control false information and fake messages, that have incited mob-lynching incidents from Tripura to Karnataka.
Last evening, the government in a fresh missive to WhatsApp, warned that platforms that choose to remain mute spectators are liable to be treated ‘abettor’ and may face legal consequences. Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had yesterday informed the Rajya Sabha that he will hold discussion with stakeholders, including political parties, to evolve a policy to deal with the misuse of social media.
The minister had earlier told WhatsApp that the platform “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”. WhatsApp has told the Centre that fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies “working together”. Rumours on WhatsApp have provoked a spate of incidents involving mob fury, including one where five men were lynched on the suspicion of being child lifters in Maharashtra’s Rainpada village of Dhule district. Also, a man was beaten to death, while three others were injured after a mob attacked them suspecting them to be child-lifters, near Bidar in Karnataka.