One of the menacing problems that India’s online chat community fails to tackle is the deluge of fake news and misinformation. Be it the recent incident in Madhya Pradesh that involved a fake WhatsApp message inciting some 50-60 villagers to allegedly maul two innocent persons on the foreboding that they would murder people and sell their body parts or another one circulating lately that sparked rumours of the entry of around 400 child traffickers into Bengaluru, ultimately leading an agitated mob to lynch an innocent man on the suspicion of being one of those traffickers.
WhatsApp is a major source when it comes to false and unverified news in India. The Facebook-owned company has now taken up the issue seriously and it is now said to have commissioned a set of new global awards to the researchers who would dedicate their efforts in identifying the fake news.
In a report by The Indian Express, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that it is well aware of the fake news issue in India and is now actively looking to alleviate the issue from its root. The company will work with “leading academic experts” in India to learn more about the way the online platforms are used by people to disseminate misinformation. While WhatsApp recently introduced a few measures to address the issue, it is now banking on the expert knowledge of researchers to expand those features and “support broad education” that will help people spot fake news.
According to WhatsApp, about 90 per cent of the messages circulated on WhatsApp are between two chats while the group chats usually consist of six or fewer people. The messages and “viral forwards” spread across the platform and intervene among other chats. “Being an encrypted platform, it does understand that it has lesser control compared to a Twitter or Facebook.”
WhatsApp said that it will incentivise the entire programme called WhatsApp Research Awards that will fund the independent proposals on researching fake news and it will be limited to sharing within the Facebook apps, in addition to some scholarly policy communities. While the report does not mention if the information gathered will be confined to India, it does say that WhatsApp will not share the data with the researchers.
“These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio,” the WhatsApp spokesperson was quoted as saying in the report.
The WhatsApp Research Awards will act as a benefactor offering up to $50,000 per research proposal for the research work. The awardees will be eligible to attend up to two workshops at WhatsApp where they can collaborate on their ideas to eliminate fake news from the extent of the chat app, as well as its spread across other platforms. This data won’t be stored on WhatsApp platforms or servers, the report noted.