One morning, as I was sitting down for my breakfast, I heard the low ‘ding’ of my WhatsApp notification go off. Without unlocking my phone, I checked to see who the message was from. The notification bar showed a WhatsApp forwarded message that my uncle had sent to our family group.
It read, “The lady here applied sanitizer on her arms and went to the kitchen to cook. The moment she turned on the stove, her hands caught fire due to the alcohol contained in the sanitizer” alongside a picture of a woman with second-degree burns. The message was obviously a hoax. But my uncle didn’t know that and it probably never occurred to him to fact check it as well. And he thought he’d do a service to his friends and family by passing on this bit of information.
WhatsApp’s forwarded messages are notorious for spreading for all kinds of fake news in India. But most people don’t even know that they’re circulating misinformation. Think about it – If you talked about ‘fake news’ among your family and relatives, how many would give you a quizzical look? How many would believe that they themselves are circulating fake news? And how many would easily fall prey to the misinformation they see on their Whatsapp; misinformation that might directly harm them or those around them? Get what I’m trying to say here?
So in an effort to diminish the spread of fake news on its platform, WhatsApp has rolled out a new way for users to search the web for a text’s authenticity quickly. The platform had also enforced specific measures in the past to prevent the spread of fake news. It had put a WhatsApp message forwarding limit to just five contacts and to one person at a time after a user had reached their limit. It also introduced a double arrow icon to let users know when they were receiving a forwarded message.
Now WhatsApp plans to show a web search icon beside the forwarded messages. Users will be able to do a quick web search for a message’s authenticity with a quick tap on the icon.
While the feature is being currently rolled out to WhatsApp on Android, iOS, and web in Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Spain, UK, and the US, interestingly enough it hasn’t reached India yet, the largest market for WhatsApp.
As of now, we’re not sure when the feature will be rolled out here, but we hope it comes sooner rather than later. Lord knows we need it, especially with everything that’s been going on lately.