After the recent violence based on fake WhatsApp messages in India, Facebook owned WhatsApp is in the process of making some changes to minimize the menace. Let’s look at some of the proposed solutions to mitigate the malicious messages…
After multiple incidents of violence recently, sparked by hoax messages spreading across WhatsApp, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on July 2, wrote a letter to Facebook to take action on fake messages.
Facebook which owns WhatsApp in response to warning of MeitY, issued a statement yesterday stating it is “horrified” by the “terrible acts of violence”, and outlined steps being taken by the company to curb abuse of the messaging platform. Facebook added that it doesn’t want its services to be used for, “spreading harmful misinformation and believe this is a challenge that companies and societies should address.”
With more than 20 crore active WhatsApp users in India, Facebook said it intends to look into more ways it can alert users that a message might contain false news or a hoax. Facebook stated that “Our strategy has been twofold:”, “First, to give people the controls and information they need to stay safe; and Second, to work proactively to prevent misuse on WhatsApp.”
As the issue of WhatsApp rumour messages inciting violence continues to rage on, US based company Facebook aims to implement the technical solutions.
Facebook stated that it had been testing a new label for WhatsApp users in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. “In addition, we have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon.”
“That said, we do have the ability to prevent spam, which includes some of the misinformation that can create mistrust and potentially violence. Because we cannot see the content of messages being sent over WhatsApp we block messages based on user reports and by the manner in which they are sent. We use machine learning to identify accounts by sending a high volume of messages (faster than any human could) and we are constantly working to improve our ability to stop unwanted automated messages.”
Privacy V/s. Security
As always, ensuring security and privacy in WhatsApp is indeed a big challenge for Facebook. WhatsApp’s rationale for its security is a viable one. The encryption helps messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, status updates etc from falling into the malicious hands and can be controlled by users. There is no way to turn off the end-to-end encryption. On this aspect of users’ privacy everyone would agree with WhatsApp’s claims. And privacy, of course, is an increasingly salient concern for all of us. But for those who care about what’s happening beyond their private lives, the encryption presents a unique challenge.
WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person or group you’re communicating with can read and see what is sent, and nobody in between and even WhatsApp does not have access to the media and messages. When a message leaves a person’s phone, it is assigned a cryptographic lock, and only the person receiving the message has the key to this lock. These keys change with every single message that is sent.
The Road Ahead
The problem of fake news and misinformation being spread via WhatsApp is not exclusive to India. Propagation of fake messages using WhatsApp has become a trend across the globe. The situation of inciting violence using WhatsApp fake messages is distressing because there is no apparent solution or even a proper diagnosis of the problem WhatsApp poses for law enforcement agencies, and society at large. The challenge fake messages for everyone, however, is far more complex. The issue of checking ‘fake news’ and misinformation on WhatsApp can never be curbed completely. At best, the fake messages can be minimized using multi proposed solutions in addition to technical process.