NEW DELHI: Facebook-owned WhatsApp has taken out full page advertisements in India’s newspapers as it attempts to stem a flood of fake news that has been responsible for a number of deaths recently.
Earlier this month the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology demanded the messaging app take action to stop the circulation of false information and provocative content, saying it “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”, DNA reported.
But WhatsApp cannot see the content of private messages – one of its attractions to many users – and said blocking can only be done based on user reports.
Accordingly, its advertisements focus on media literacy, offering ten tips to help users decide if what they have been sent is true or not.
These range from understanding if a message has been forwarded – and a new tool will help users do that – and consulting other sources to see if a story is true. “Double check the facts when you’re not sure who wrote the original message,” it warns.
If users are angry or afraid as a result of reading a message on WhatsApp, they are advised to ask if that was the intention and to think carefully before sharing it again.
They are also reminded that they can control what they see and that just because a message is widely shared does not make it true.
Facebook has faced similar issues in neighbouring Myanar, where it has been accused of enabling the spread of hatred against the Rohingya people.
But whether newspaper advertisements – and tech companies are frequently keen to turn to this more trusted medium at times of crisis as a way of demonstrating that they are taking action – are really enough to prevent mob lynchings in rural India is doubtful.
“Trying to teach nuanced critical thinking when there may be a more basic lack of education that’s contributing to fomenting mistrust and driving credulity, as well as causing the spread of malicious fakes and rumours targeting certain people or segments of the population in the first place, risks both being ineffectual and coming across as merely irresponsible fiddling around the edges of a grave problem that’s claimed multiple lives already,” noted TechCrunch.
Sourced from DNA, TechCrunch, The Drum; additional content by WARC staff