WhatsApp is launching a new fact-checking service in India ahead of the country’s upcoming elections. Reuters reports that users can now forward messages to the Checkpoint Tipline, where a team lead by local startup Proto will asses and mark them as either “true,” “false,” “misleading,” or “disputed.” These messages will also be used to create a database to study and understand the spread of misinformation. India’s elections are due to start on April 11th, and final results are expected on May 23rd.
The Facebook-owned messaging service has come under continuous fire for facilitating the spread of false and misleading information in India, where viral rumors have been linked to almost a dozen deaths. WhatsApp was also accused of facilitating the spread of viral information during last year’s Brazillian election.
Reuters reports that WhatsApp’s fact-checking service, which launched on Tuesday, may be experiencing some initial problems. A message reported by the outlet was still awaiting classification two hours later.
The goal of the new initiative, according to Proto’s founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi, is to “study the misinformation phenomenon at scale.” They added that “As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more.” Economic Times India notes that the startup plans to submit its findings to the International Center for journalists.
A total of five languages will be supported by Checkpoint Tipline — English, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam — and the service will support misinformation spread in the form of text, videos, and images. Separately, WhatsApp also recently tested adding the ability for users to reverse image search images in an apparent attempt to allow users to verify their authenticity.
Along with Proto, WhatsApp is also working with Dig Deep Media and Meedan, two organizations that have contributed to similar projects in other countries. Meedan’s Check platform was originally developed to combat misinformation that spread during elections in France and Mexico and is now integrated with WhatsApp’s Business API.
The Checkpoint Tipline is just one of a range of changes WhatsApp has made to its service to combat the spread of misinformation. The service has also limited the number of times a message can be forwarded to five, and now also applies a label to any forwarded messages.
The encrypted nature of WhatsApp makes it a particularly difficult platform to regulate however, since not even the organization itself can view the messages that are being sent. Facebook recently announced that it has removed 549 Facebook accounts and 138 Pages for coordinated inauthentic behavior in India, but WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means tracking down similar behavior on the messaging service is much harder