WhatsApp has responded to the Government of India’s letter to it on rumours spread via the messaging app by explaining its two-fold strategy to tackle the issue. “Like the Government of India, we’re horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised. We believe this is a challenge that requires government, civil society, and technology companies to work together,” says the letter addressed to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
On July 2, the government had asked WhatsApp to take urgent steps to contain the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages” through its platform. It listed three heads in the mail — Product Controls, Digital Literacy and Fact-Checking and Proactive Action to Tackle Abuse — as measures it was taking to counter the spread of misinformation on its platform.
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The letter said the app has been designed with security in mind and comes with features that let you block anyone with a single tap. “We’ve also recently made a number of changes to group chats to prevent the spread of unwanted information, which we believe will address some of the specific issues you raise,” it said in the mail. It also said new protections had been put in place to “prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left”.
Also, the letter said, it has launched a new setting that gives administrators the power to control who gets to send messages within groups. “This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations — as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content.”
WhatsApp said it is also planning to launch a new label in India to highlight a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. It also mentioned how a new project has been announced to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation.
The other measures listed include posts that teach users “how to spot fake news and hoaxes” which WhatsApp plans to run in India. It explained how it was workig with fact checking organisation Boom Live, which is “available on WhatsApp and has published numerous important reports on the source of the rumours”.
It reasoned that the idea was for everyone to get a better understanding of the problematic fake news circulating on WhatsApp, and how it relates to misinformation being shared on other platforms.
It also sought to clarify that despite the virality, it is still a very private platform.
“Many people (nearly 25 percent in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than ten people); and nine in ten messages are still sent from just one person to another.”
However, it explained that its encrypted nature meant it was not able “to see problematic content spreading through private conversations on our app”.