WhatsApp launches factcheck feature aimed at viral messages

WhatsApp has introduced a feature allowing users to check the contents of viral messages in the latest move to root out disinformation and fake news being spread on the Facebook-owned service.

The feature, which is being piloted in six countries including the UK from Tuesday, allows users to perform a Google search on content they have been forwarded to factcheck claims and information.

WhatsApp has added a magnifying glass icon that will appear next to messages that have been forwarded through chains of five or more people. Tapping it searches the message’s contents online, with the hope that this should reveal if it contains conspiracy theories or misinformation.

“Today, we’re piloting a simple way to double-check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat,” WhatsApp said. “Providing a simple way to search messages that have been forwarded many times may help people find news results or other sources of information about content they have received.”

In a screenshot showing how the feature works, WhatsApp used the example of a message that contained the claim that “drinking fresh boiled garlic water will cure Covid-19”. The web search function brings up three factchecking websites stating that the claim is false.

Attempts to crackdown on the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp, which has 2 billion users worldwide, have been complicated because messages are encrypted. This means the company cannot see the contents of messages that are sent. The new web search feature gives users the ability to do the factchecking.

“This feature works by allowing users to upload the message via their browser without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself,” the company said.

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This year WhatsApp introduced limits on the forwarding of messages that had not come from a close contact. These viral messages can now only be forwarded on to one more person, instead of the previous limit of five. Until 2018, users had been able to forward a message to 250 groups at once. That was reduced to 20 that year, five in 2019 and one now.

The company said that the measure had cut the spread of viral messages by 70%.



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