Replying to a question by a Rajya Sabha member on the spreading of fake news on social media platforms on August 10, 2018, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, S S Ahluwalia informed the house on the steps taken by WhatsApp to curb fake news. As per the reply, the Ministry issued notice to WhatsApp enquiring about the steps taken to combat fake news.
To this, WhatsApp has indicated that in order to increase the friction on propagation of content, they are reducing the number of forwards to five and are indicating whether an incoming message is forwarded or originally composed by the sender. The forward button that is adjacent to the video or audio message is also proposed to be removed in this regard. This has been done in order to let a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else.
The reply also highlights that WhatsApp will be bringing in fact-checking and fake news verification mechanisms to help people check the veracity of content on the platform. In furtherance of this attempt, WhatsApp is working with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation and has also shared learning material which has been suitably modified and is made available on www.infosecawareness.in. WhatsApp has reportedly shared the strategy of giving people the controls and information they need in order to stay safe and “To work proactively to prevent misuse on WhatsApp”.
Fake news prompted lynching has claimed several lives in the past few months. Due to a single WhatsApp rumour claiming the presence of a child lifting gang, 29 people have been killed since last May. The Ministry has in the past highlighted that the provisions of the Information and Technology Act are sufficient to deal with misinformation on social media. It has also been stated that intermediaries are approached on a case to case basis for removing specific objectionable content noticed by the government.
Despite the ‘safeguards’ however, fake news has had fatal repercussions in India. It should be noted that along with the government, WhatsApp is also accountable to its largest user market for the effect of its content on people.