Recently, five men were lynched in Maharashtra following false panic fuelled by fake WhatsApp messages Image: Tapasri Saha
WhatsApp has started rolling out a new feature which will let its users identify messages that are forwarded, as the popular messaging app looks to combat fake news and false information in India.
WhatsApp also unleashed a user awareness drive in the country after drawing flak from the Indian government over fake and provocative messages being circulated on its platform. There had been reports of WhatsApp testing out the feature in its beta builds.
Such messages are known to have incited mob fury, triggering multiple cases of lynching across parts of India and, in turn, prompted the government to issue a stern warning to the company to clamp down on hoax messages designed to "provoke" and "instigate" people. The government had also made it clear last week that WhatsApp "cannot evade accountability and responsibility".
"Starting today, WhatsApp will indicate which messages you receive have been forwarded to you. This extra context will help make one-on-one and group chats easier to follow. It also helps you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message they sent or if it originally came from someone else," WhatsApp said in a global statement.
Users will need to have the latest supported version of WhatsApp on their phone to see the new forwarded label.
"We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded. As a reminder, you can report spam or block a contact in one tap and can always reach out to WhatsApp directly for help," WhatsApp said.
The Facebook-owned messaging service brought out a full-page advertisement in leading newspapers, first in the series of its user awareness drive, giving "easy tips" to determine if the information received is true or not.
The latest campaign by WhatsApp also outlines ways to spot false information including identifying forwarded messages and coaxing users to "double check" on information using multiple sources to establish the authenticity of a news or a photograph.
The campaign also nudged users to question information that is meant to instil anger or fear and to think twice before sharing such messages.
WhatsApp's public awareness ad Image: Twitter
Last week, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had demanded greater accountability from WhatsApp, saying the government will not tolerate any misuse of the platform to spread fake messages.
In response, WhatsApp had informed the government that fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies "working together".
Reiterating the message today in its advocacy campaign, WhatsApp, in an official statement, said, "To fight fake news, we all need to work together — technology companies, the government and community groups. If you see something that's not true, make people aware and help stop the spread."
Rumours on WhatsApp have fuelled a spate of incidents involving mob fury, a recent one being the lynching of five men on the suspicion of being kidnappers in Maharashtra's Rainpada village of Dhule district.
(Inputs from PTI)