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To combat fake news, WhatsApp introduces a new feature

WhatsApp is getting serious about the fight against the spread of fake news, and with that, some meaningful changes are coming to its app.

This week, the company announced that it is adding labels to forwarded messages so users can better identify rumours, fake news, and other false information that often spreads through the messaging app, as the company looks to combat accusations that it has not done enough to stop the spread of false news, especially in India, its largest market.

“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,” WhatsApp announced in a blog post. “It also helps you determine if your friend or relative wrote the message they sent or if it originally came from someone else.”

With this update, forwarded messages will have a small “forwarded” label, similar to forwarded email messages, clearly indicating the message was originally written by someone other than the sender.

To see this new forwarded label, users need to have the latest supported version of WhatsApp on their phones.

The swift, comprehensive rollout of this feature—which was earlier spotted on the Android beta version of the app—appears to be a quick response to the Indian government’s request to Facebook-owned WhatsApp to take steps to prevent the circulation of fake news and provocative content that have led to a series of lynchings and mob beatings across the country recently.

“Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken,” India’s IT ministry said in a strongly-worded statement.

With more than 200 million users in India, WhatsApp’s biggest market in the world, fake news and misleading videos circulating on the messaging app have become a new cause for concern for the social media giant Facebook, already grappling with the fallout over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

WhatsApp had already launched an education campaign in India that aims to help users spot false news on the platform. They published several full-page advertisements in English, Hindi and regional languages in newspapers across the country — a strategy that’s right out of Facebook’s public relations playbook.

“Together we can fight false information,” read full-page advertisements in some top English language-newspapers. The ads urge users to check information before sharing it and cautioned them about the spread of fake news.

The messaging platform also presented a 10-step guide to avoid false information. Here are the tips suggested by WhatsApp:

Think before sharing messages that were forwarded.

While it may seem like a minor update, but it’s one WhatsApp says could help people quickly and easily identify false news and other types of misinformation.

“WhatsApp cares deeply about your safety. We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded,” WhatsApp mentioned in their blog update. “As a reminder, you can report spam or block a contact in one tap and can always reach out to WhatsApp directly for help.”

Along with more control for group admins, the Facebook-owned platform had earlier listed the labeling of messages as one of the features that could help bring down the virality of fake news and other false, misleading information.

It has also commissioned a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp.

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