WhatsApp today, on the 2nd of April 2019, unveiled its ”Checkpoint Tipline” which will help people check the authenticity of information received as the messaging giant looks to crack down on fake news ahead of the general election in the country.
WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned company said in a statement that, “Launched by Proto, an India-based media skilling startup, this Tip Line will help create a database of rumors to study misinformation during elections for Checkpoint – a research project commissioned and technically assisted by WhatsApp.”
WhatsApp also added in their statement that this service will start from Tuesday and people in India can submit misinformation or rumors they receive to the Checkpoint Tip Line on WhatsApp (+91-9643-000-888).
Once a WhatsApp user shares a suspicious message with the tip line, Proto’s verification centre will seek to respond and inform the user if the claim made in message shared is verified or not.
WhatsApp said, “The response will indicate if information is classified as true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope and include any other related information that is available.”
The tip line centre of the WhatsApp group is equipped to review content in the form of pictures, video links or text and will cover English and four regional languages – Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, and Malayalam.
Proto will also look at working with organizations at grassroots level to submit misinformation circulating across different regions in India during the election period.
Facebook, which counts India as one of its largest markets with over 200 million users, had faced flak from the Indian government after a series of mob-lynching incidents, triggered by rumours circulating on WhatsApp, claimed lives last year.
WhatsApp had last year restricted forwarding messages to five chats at once by coming under pressure to stop rumors and fake news. It has also been putting out advertisements in newspapers and running television and radio campaigns offering tips to users on how to spot misinformation.
With ensuing general elections, the Indian government had warned social media platforms of strong action if any attempt was made to influence the country’s electoral process through undesirable means.
Interestingly, the Indian government — through proposed changes in IT rules — is seeking to make social media platforms more accountable by mandating them to introduce tools that can identify and disable “unlawful content”.
One of the amendments being mulled in the IT intermediary rules (meant for online and social media platforms) will require them to enable tracing out of such originators of information as needed by government agencies that are legally authorized.
However, WhatsApp has so far resisted the government’s demand for identifying message originators, arguing that such a move would undermine the end-to-end encryption and the private nature of the platform, creating potential for serious misuse.
In its statement on Tuesday, WhatsApp said Dig Deeper Media and Meedan – which have previously worked on misinformation-related projects around the world – are helping PROTO to develop the verification and research frameworks for India.
Meedan has developed the technology to support the verification of rumors and will maintain the database of such content that have been processed.
To do so, they have expanded their check platform (developed for recent elections in Mexico and France) and integrated it with the WhatsApp Business API, to receive and respond to messages at scale.
“The goal of this project is to study the misinformation phenomenon at scale — natively in WhatsApp. As more data flows in, we will be able to identify the most susceptible or affected issues, locations, languages, regions, and more,” Proto founders Ritvvij Parrikh and Nasr ul Hadi said
The verification reports Proto sends back will encourage grassroots-level “listening posts” to send more signals for analysis, they added.
Following the project, Proto also plans to submit learnings to the International Center for Journalists to help other organizations learn from the design and operations of this project.
Fergus Bell, founder and CEO, Dig Deeper Media, said, “The research from this initiative will help create a global benchmark for those wishing to tackle misinformation in their own markets.”