WhatsApp messages are encrypted, spread instantly through closed groups making it the ideal platform for spreading disinfo.
People trust messages posted on their WhatsApp closed groups. These groups are members-only and invisible to external fact checkers unlike open Facebook and Twitter threads. The danger of disinfo is especially acute in Hispanic, Asian and other groups who use WhatsApp to make free overseas calls. Conspiracy theories, and disinfo to undermine democracy and promote violence thrive on WhatsApp.
- Black and Hispanic voters, from false content that could dissuade them from going to the polls
- Spreading COVID disinfo and bogus cures
- People were lynched by local populations after being accused of child kidnapping by altered video on WhatsApp
Disinfo is intentionally disguised to appear true making it hard for people to spot the lies before sharing it with others on WhatsApp. This blog explains how grassroots groups are countering WhatsApp disinfo with volunteer based fact checking to quickly respond to disinfo. Their approach does not require new apps, investment nor mass training but can still respond to disinfo in different languages in a culturally appropriate manner.
Disinfo spread on WhatsApp
Why is disinfo on WhatsApp so dangerous?
WhatsApp, because it’s fast, simple, and much more intimate compared to Facebook. “People belong to tight-knit groups on WhatsApp such as a friends group and a family group,” said Harsh Taneja, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism whose research focuses on audience behavior and internet use. “But digital networks like WhatsApp are designed to connect us tightly with groups of acquaintances too, who we may not otherwise have interacted with frequently.”
These “weak ties”, as Taneja calls them, are the reason why information spreads rapidly on closed networks like WhatsApp. “Most misinformation that originates within WhatsApp finds its way through this tight-knit network of weak ties,” Taneja said. But it’s tough to analyze WhatsApp. The messaging platform is encrypted end-to-end with no API, algorithms, or trending topics — which means that it’s virtually impossible to track exactly how content spreads through it. - BuzzFeed
Volunteer driven fact checking counters WhatsApp disinfo
Countering WhatsApp disinfo
DesiFacts.org is a nonprofit fighting disinfo. "Mis- and disinformation widens the partisan divide. Erodes trust in our democracy. Stifles and prevents voter participation. Endangers health by spreading COVID disinfo. In South Asian communities, misinformation has fueled Islamophobia and racism against other communities of color." They're using a simple, but highly effective approach to fight back.
- Determine the accuracy of a meme you saw on WhatsApp
- Find resources to share truthful content on your own platforms
- volunteer to curb the spread of mis/disinformation in your communities to verify information and fight misinformation
Volunteers are asked to report dubious or questionable posts, memes ad videos they see in their WhatsApp groups. Trained DesiFacts volunteers check the accuracy of the information and post the facts into a private WhatsApp group. Members of the closed WhatsApp group get the correct info from the DesiFacts group and then post it into their closed group to counter the disinfo being spread. Fast, simple and cost-effective. Try it!
Classifying WhatsApp disinfo
Fighting disinfo resources
- Disinfo Defense Toolkit
- Knowing The News - PEN
- Black & Latino targeted disinfo
- How to Talk to Friends and Family Who Share Misinformation
- Suppressing the Black Vote
TakeAway: Fight disinfo. Check the facts before you share posts on WhatsApp and Facebook.
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