WhatsApp pilots new tool to tackle fake news

WhatsApp has initiated a new feature that will allow users to fact-check messages by searching the web.

The move adds to WhatsApp's recent developments the that were rolled out to fight misinformation.


"We're piloting a simple way to double check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat," the company said Monday in a statement.


The magnifying glass punctuates the existing two-arrow icon used to flag messages which have been forwarded many times.


WhatsApp says that: "Providing a simple way to search messages that have been forwarded many times may help people find news results or other sources of information about content they have received."

Common hoaxes will come up high in Google search results.

The 2.5-billion-user messaging app claims that the 'forwarded' label helps people know when they have received a message that was not written by a close contact.

Earlier this year, the app also set limits on how many times a message can be sent at once.

Both measures have slashed the number of highly forwarded messages by 70 per cent.

But the new icon apparently works in unrevealed ways.

"This feature works by allowing users to upload the message via their browser without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself," said the company without providing any more details.

While WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, it's unclear how the new function sends an encrypted message to a browser.

A technology writer Ben Lovejoy suggested that the function "must involve adding the browser as a temporary participant in the chat for each message tapped in this way."

WhatsApp's Search-the-web tool was rolled out Monday starting in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US.

Only those on the latest versions of WhatsApp for Android, iOS and WhatsApp Web can use the function, the statement says.

Social media has been an easy tool for spreading hoax content, which has intensfied during the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of Foreign Policy and Security experts in Munich, Germany, in mid- February, referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”

In response, international bodies and media companies including Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok, YuTube set up teams of myth-busters to counter the spread of rumours.

Some of the widespread misinformation on coronavirus is  that the virus cannot survive in the hot weather, and that consuming large quantities of alcohol or ginger and garlic can prevent the virus.



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