Months after it announced a move to fund research teams around the world to tackle misinformation, WhatsApp has announced awards for 20 research teams, each of which will receive up to $50,000 for their projects. The messaging platform, which has over 200 million users in India alone, hopes the studies will contribute to its “understanding of how misinformation spreads” and what additional steps it can take as it builds product and partners with civil society. Misinformation spread via the platform has resulted in violence and even deaths across India in recent months.
Mrinalini Rao, Lead Researcher at WhatsApp, said they recognise this issue presents a long-term challenge that must be met in partnership with others. “These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe.” This week WhatsApp will host the researchers in California so they can hear from product leaders about how WhatsApp builds our product.
WhatsApp believes that since 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited, its focus remains will have to be on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse. As a result, in July 2018 it called for and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world on the topic. It also introduced some software solutions to cut the reach of some posts. In India, it is also partnering with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders on how to address misinformation.
The 20 recipients of the award which total $1 million are from across the globe including India, Indonesia and Brazil. The grants pertain to areas of ‘information processing of problematic content’ where studies examine how social, cognitive, and other variables related to the content’s credibility as well as the decision to share it with others; projects that examine the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation; election-related misinformation and network effects and virality.