WhatsApp launches India tip line to curb fake news during polls

WhatsApp said it is working with an Indian start-up that will help to classify messages sent by users as true, false, misleading or disputed. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (REUTERS, NYTIMES) - WhatsApp on Tuesday (April 2) launched a service for Indians to check the veracity of information, in the messaging platform's latest attempt to combat fake news in India ahead of national elections beginning this month.

WhatsApp said in a statement it was working with local startup Proto to classify messages sent to the service by users as true, false, misleading or disputed. They will also build a database of such content to better understand misinformation.

The move comes as WhatsApp, with over 200 million users in India, battles criticism of its platform being used for the spread of misinformation, while social media companies across the board work to prevent the phenomenon - particularly during sensitive events such as elections.

WhatsApp owner Facebook Inc said on Monday it had deleted 712 accounts and 390 pages in India and Pakistan for "inauthentic behaviour", saying many were linked to India's opposition Congress party and others related to Pakistan's military.

WhatsApp had a similar challenge during Brazilian elections last year, when politicians had faced claims of spreading falsehoods on the platform.

The new service, dubbed Checkpoint Tipline, can receive messages in the form of images and video as well as text in English and four regional languages, it added.

Checkpoint is a research project commissioned by WhatsApp.

All the major Indian parties have sophisticated disinformation strategies, which include posting false and manipulated photos and videos and coordinating posts across a network of paid acolytes and volunteers.

That has put Facebook, which has said it does not want to stifle free expression, in an awkward position.

For the past year, the company has relied on two independent organisations - first a local group called Boom and, more recently, the news agency Agence France-Presse - to fact-check a handful of posts in India every day.

In February, Facebook added five more organisations to the stable and expanded the number of languages covered to seven, up from just English initially.

The first phase of India's elections is scheduled to begin on April 11, with final results expected on May 23.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.