Misinformation has been running rampant through WhatsApp conversations between Indian users. It's gotten so bad that false accusations of child trafficking and organ harvesting have riled folks into mob violence that's killed 12 people. The service has been trying to counter the spread of fake news on its platform, and today introduced a small upgrade: Labeling forwarded text.
It's a flimsy effort, but WhatsApp is limited by its platform's strengths: Since all conversations are encrypted, the service itself can't monitor message content or track keywords. In other words, it can't fight fake news like its parent company Facebook by scanning and analyzing public posts for suspicious text and activity.
Instead, WhatsApp's strategy relies on educating its users. "We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded," the service said in a blog post announcing the new label. It also took out full-page advertisements in several Indian newspapers urging WhatsApp users to be skeptical of messages they receive on the platform. Local authorities had also been using low-tech methods to warn the public about fake news, hiring street performers and 'rumor busters' to speak to villages; One of the latter reportedly died at the hands of a mob last month.