WhatsApp disinformation crackdown reduces viral messaging by 70 percent

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WhatsApp successfully reduced the amount of highly forwarded messaging on its service by 70 percent after introducing anti-misinformation measures earlier this month, reports TechCrunch. On April 7, the Facebook subsidiary required users to send frequently forwarded missives to one contact at a time.

The social media firm introduced the change after the Indian government asked for help curbing the spread of misleading data about COVID-19.

Fighting Misinformation on a Hugely Popular Social Network

In February, Facebook revealed WhatsApp’s monthly active user base had grown to encompass 2 billion people. However, the encrypted messaging service’s expansion has been accompanied by a spike in malicious operators using it to spread misinformation. To its credit, the platform responded by introducing a series of tweaks to crack down on viral hoaxes and misleading news.

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In 2018, the company altered its service so users could only forward messages to 5 people or groups at once. As a result, the firm observed a 25 percent drop in worldwide message transmission over the next two years. However, the coronavirus pandemic prompted a new wave of false information to arise.

Notably, the government in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market, approached the platform about stamping out COVID-19 related fake news.

The service addressed the problem by creating a chatbot called MyGov Corona Helpdesk, a tool that provides users with answers for their coronavirus related questions. But as fake news about the pandemic continued to spread through the platform, its leaders escalated the misinformation crackdown. The company required users to send messages that have been forwarded five times to one person or group at a time, causing a 70 percent drop in frequently passed on missives.

As WhatsApp’s user communications are protected by end-to-end encryption, the firm does not know the nature of the viral missives. But the platform’s 200 million Indian subscribers have reported receiving messages about fake treatments for COVID-19 and made up government health and safety recommendations. As such, the social network’s mission to slow the spread of viral content seems justified.

Bad Timing

In addition to serving the public good, WhatsApp’s efforts to suppress incorrect coronavirus data also serves the interest of a new Facebook business deal.

Earlier this month, the corporation bought a 9.99 percent stake in Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited. Moreover, the social media giant announced plans to launch a new initiative called JioMart, which will allow local consumers to make electronic purchases from corner shops.

If successful, JiroMart could generate billions of dollars in e-commerce revenue for Reliance and finally make WhatsApp profitable. Despite its popularity, the service has no money-making features, and Facebook has struggled to find ways to monetize it without undercutting its utility. Besides, the two corporations’ initiative could also help millions of local merchants increase their customer bases and income.

However, none of that can happen if the Indian government or people decide WhatsApp is just a tool for disseminating false information. As such, the service’s frequently forwarded messaging crackdown could provide the region with near-term health benefits and long-term economic gains.

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