WhatsApp has released a white-paper detailing the efforts they are taking to fight bulk messages and coordinated abuse. They state that in the run-up to the 2019 national election, they have made significant product changes and worked with partners across civil society to address the harmful consequences of misinformation. The effort involves three lines of efforts: Education and Empowerment of Users.
The instant messaging behemoth starts off by talking about the forwarding label. They state that they have added a label that highlights when a user receives a message that has been forwarded to them. This helps people know when a message they have received was not created by the person who sent it. WhatsApp states that they always encourage users to think before sharing forwards.
The next point touched upon is the education through its advertising campaigns. WhatsApp states that they launched a nationwide campaign called “Share Joy, Not Rumors” in over 10 languages across multiple formats including television, print, online, and radio to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news. They will continue to expand the public education efforts leading up to the national elections in 2019.
WhatsApp then speaks about improvements to its ‘Groups’ feature. A number of changes to WhatsApp groups that empower users with new controls have been made. WhatsApp has launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who can send messages within groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages, including hoaxes. They have also added protections so users cannot be repeatedly added to groups they’ve left.
WhatsApp highlights that option to exit a group with a single tap. They state that when a user is added to a group by someone who is not in their contact list, WhatsApp displays a notice asking if a user wants to “report” or “exit the group”. This helps people quickly report or leave a group they don’t want to be in.
An important feature that was first started in India and then rolled out globally was the forward limit. WhatsApp states that they set a limit on forwarding messages, making WhatsApp one of the few technology companies to intentionally constrain sharing. In India, that limit is currently just five chats at once. They have also removed the quick forward button next to media messages. This has had a significant impact on forwarding. Going forward WhatsApp will continue to explore new solutions to address the spread of viral information.
WhatsApp has best-in-class spam detection technology that works around the clock to spot accounts engaging in abnormal behaviour so they can’t be used to spread spam or misinformation. They also rely on user reports to take action against accounts sending automated unwanted messages.
WhatsApp made several changes to its reporting functions within the app. Previously WhatsApp provided a function to “Report Spam.” Now, this function is called “Report” to encourage users to inform them about a range of potential issues they encounter on WhatsApp. In addition, WhatsApp now provides the option for people to keep reported messages on their phone if they want to share them with fact checkers or law enforcement officials.
As part of establishing our operations in India, WhatsApp has identified a Grievance Officer who can be contacted directly if a user has a concern about their WhatsApp experience and is unable to report it through other channels.
WhatsApp has awarded 20 independent research grants to help inform their product development and safety efforts going forward.
WhatsApp is partnering with respected digital literacy NGOs and has developed a training curriculum that addresses safety and spotting rumours. They announced a partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders across 10 states in the lead up to the elections. WhatsApp provided the curriculum they developed to the Government of India, which in turn has made it available on their education portal.
Users looking for help from fact-checking organizations can message Boom Live and Alt News, as well as the news consortium Ekta, which is piloting a fact-checking service for the Rajasthan election. WhatsApp is working with a number of fact-checking organizations to determine the best way to support this important work.
In coordination with the Government of India, WhatsApp has provided training to law enforcement on how to use the platform as a resource in their community. Officials learned how to respond to citizens on WhatsApp and how to make legal requests of WhatsApp in the process of investigating a crime.
WhatsApp facilitated political party training in the five Indian states with elections in 2018. They briefed them on our approach to safety and the importance of using WhatsApp responsibly. The training emphasizes that sending WhatsApp messages to users without their permission can lead to their accounts being banned. WhatsApp will expand this effort and work with the Election Commission of India in the lead up to the national election in 2019.
WhatsApp has hired Abhijit Bose to lead WhatsApp India. Abhijit is the first country leader for WhatsApp and will grow a local team that can further develop relationships with civil society and respond to the Government of India on a timely basis. This team will include local legal, policy, and business teams that can work with Indian partners on common goals, such as increasing financial inclusion and digital literacy across India.by opening the “Menu” and choosing “business settings” to try all the newest features.