News Brief

WhatsApp announces fact-check hotline for India’s elections

WhatsApp has launched a hotline, designed to check the authenticity of the information shared through its service about the upcoming national elections in India.

The service center, which will be run by an Indian IT startup called PROTO, will accept queries by text, photo or video and will work in five languages: English, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, and Malayalam.

The aim is to revive WhatsApp’s reputation as a trustworthy service after multiple fake news scandals last year resulted in mob violence and dozens of deaths in India, where the app boasts around 200 million users. Since then Whatsapp has limited amount of times a user can forward a message, capping it at 5 chats.

Concern is high ahead of the first round of elections starting on April 11 that fake news and disinformation campaigns could play a major disruption in the world’s largest democracy.

The fact-check service is called “Checkpoint Tipline.” The process, WhatsApp says, should be straight forward. Users will submit messages to a dedicated Checkpoint account. The center will review the query and give the user a response that classifies the submitted piece of message as true, false, misleading, disputed or “out of scope” and unverifiable.

The tipline should also provide the user with more available information related to the subject reviewed.

It is unclear how many staff members will be responding to user queries or how efficient the service will be. It is also unclear how much money WhatsApp has spent to fund this initiative.

WhatsApp has struggled with policing fake news because its end-to-end encryption feature keeps third parties — including fact-checkers — from accessing information shared on the platform.

The PROTO teams will store the fake news results in a database, which will become the basis for an analysis of the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp, the company said.