New feature lets you easily fact-check WhatsApp messages

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Social media is the main way hoax messages get traction these days, so a new feature has been added to let you easily fact-check WhatsApp messages …

Background

WhatsApp has been using a variety of methods of fighting disinformation. As all messages are end-to-end encrypted, the company has no way to see the content, so cannot flag hoaxes this way, but it has employed other methods.

One of the main ones has been to flag messages which have been forwarded many times, as that means they were likely not written by anyone you know and trust. Another has been to make it harder to forward messages to many people at once: the biggest issue is not those who create fake messages, but those who unthinkingly forward them without carrying out any fact-checking.

These measures have already proven effective, leading to a 70% reduction in the number of ‘highly-forwarded messages.’

How to fact-check WhatsApp messages

After addressing those who just mindlessly forward messages to all their contacts, the company is now targeting those who want to be responsible and fact-check WhatsApp messages before forwarding them.

We’re piloting a simple way to double check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat. 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.

This feature works by allowing users to upload the message via their browser without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself.

Search the web is being rolled out starting today in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US for those on the latest versions of WhatsApp for Android, iOS and WhatsApp Web.

Common hoaxes will come up high in Google search results, such as the ridiculous example shown – that drinking a bowl of water infused with fresh garlic cures the coronavirus. Yep, there really are people dumb enough to believe these things.

The company hasn’t shared any details of the method it uses to send the encrypted content to a browser, and likely won’t for security reasons, but it must involve effectively adding the browser as a temporary participant in the chat for each message tapped in this way.

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