WhatsApp has partnered with NASSCOM Foundation to run workshops to fight misinformation. The workshops will encourage people to “be mindful about forwarding rumors”, and will train people in tools which can be used to verify a forward, and how users can report problematic content to fact checkers and law enforcement. The workshops will be conducted in multiple unspecified languages, and is expected to reach roughly 1 lakh people. The first workshop will take place in Delhi on March 27th.

Why WhatsApp is fighting fake news

WhatsApp has held such workshops earlier in partnerships with Jio in 10 cities in UP and Rajasthan to use WhatsApp ‘responsibly’, and also partnered with Digital Empowerment Foundation for workshops on fake news across the country.

  • Spread of fake news: WhatsApp has been help responsible for the deaths of at least 40 people in the country due to rumours and misinformation spread on its platform. In multiple cases, rumours about child catchers being on the lookout have led to people being lynched in Assam and Maharashtra. The deaths have triggered government scrutiny of the platform and raised issues regarding privacy of users vs. public safety.
  • The demand for traceability: Given the spate of fake news and deaths on WhatsApp, the Indian government has asked it bring in traceability to be able to ascertain who the original sender of a message/content is. Traceability would imply breaking end-to-end encryption, a design that is central to WhatsApp. The Indian government has demanded that WhatsApp has to bring in “traceability and accountability” and said it cannot evade responsibility.
  • ECI meeting with WhatsApp and other social media platforms over electoral issues: The Election Commission has asked to meet with Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, ShareChat and TikTok’s India heads next week to talk about taking down content which violates its guidelines during the upcoming elections. The ECI will address in the meeting pre-certification process for political ads, compliance with silent period rules, what political advertisements are, grievance redressal channels, and how platforms plan to prevent abuse.

Its worth noting that the ECI’s new pre-certification requirements have prompted political parties to switch their messaging to WhatsApp and small platforms. According to Mint, political parties now cater to smaller and more groups instead of larger groups. “There are an insane number of groups based on region, caste, etc. The reach is still good and the messaging is direct,” an anonymous source working with a south Indian party’s campaign told the publication.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp has introduced ‘forwarded’ labels to forwarded messages and restricted the ability to forward to only 5 people, began marking certain messages with links as suspicious (in beta stage), hired a India head, and a grievance redressal officer for India based in the US.

Holding platforms liable: safe harbor rule changes

The government’s new Intermediary Liability Rules hold platforms much more accountable for the content users exchange on their platform. The new rules require platforms to introduce traceability, hand over information or assistance to government bodies in 72 hours, register themselves under the Companies Act, have a physical address and nodal officer in India, and requires platfroms to take down content within 36 hours, and deploy tools to proactively identify and remove unlawful content.