WhatsApp: Facebook's other problem

Facebook is battling privacy scandals, user outrage and fake news controversies, but in India its biggest problem is WhatsApp

Posted: Jul 28, 2018 7:49 AM
Updated: Jul 28, 2018 8:30 AM

Facebook is being battered by privacy scandals, user outrage and fake news controversies. In India, its biggest problem is WhatsApp.

Widely-distributed hoax messages sent on the app, which Facebook owns, have been blamed for more than a dozen lynchings across India. Facebook has deployed a series of new features in recent weeks to try to fix the problem.

The latest feature, rolled out last week for testing, uses a red label to warn users that a link they've been sent is suspicious.

The changes to WhatsApp are part of a much larger effort by Facebook to get a grip on its role in spreading misinformation.

Facebook's stock plunged 19% on Thursday after executives warned that revenue growth would slow as the company focuses on user privacy, vaporizing $119 billion in market value.

Related: Facebook just had the worst day in stock market history

"Facebook is currently facing a global problem of trust," said Nikhil Pahwa, co-founder of India's Internet Freedom Foundation. "Regulators do not trust them at this point in time because they have allowed certain activity to fester without dealing with it."

Facebook previously attracted the attention of the Indian government in 2016, when it was criticized for offering a free internet service that connected to only a limited number of websites (including Facebook). Called Free Basics, the program was shot down by the Indian government because it violated net neutrality.

Attention has since turned to WhatsApp, which Facebook purchased in 2014.

WhatsApp has introduced at least four new features over the past month that are designed to combat the mass messaging of rumors that have fueled mob violence and killings in India, the service's largest market with over 200 million users.

According to WhatsApp's website, its latest test feature "automatically performs checks to determine if a link is suspicious" and advises users to exercise caution when receiving and opening links.

WhatsApp previously started labeling messages to indicate they've been forwarded rather than composed by the sender. It's also testing limits on how many chats (individuals or groups) a message can be forwarded to simultaneously — 20 for the rest of the world, five for India.

Newspaper ads, which contain tips like "check information that seems unbelievable" and "be thoughtful about what you share," began appearing in national and regional newspapers across nine Indian states earlier this month.

Related: WhatsApp is using newspapers to fight fake news in India

Sparked by rumors of child abduction, mob killings have continued. The most recent took place two weeks ago, after some of WhatsApp's new features were rolled out.

WhatsApp declined to comment for this story, but said in a letter to the government earlier this month that it was "horrified by these terrible acts of violence" and that it would "work proactively to prevent misuse" of its platform.

The Indian government has accused Facebook and WhatsApp of not doing enough to combat the spread of misinformation.

"Social media platforms ... are being abused as a vehicle for weaponization of information," Ravi Shankar Prasad, India's technology minister, said Thursday in parliament.

Prasad singled out Facebook's handling of Indian user data related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and WhatsApp's role in lynchings.

He recognized the steps WhatsApp has taken to fight the spread of rumors, but said the measures were "not adequate to meet the challenges of the situation."

Related: It's a two-horse race for India's smartphone market

Pahwa, who helped lead the fight against Free Basics, welcomed WhatsApp's latest move to flag suspicious links but said it doesn't go far enough.

"You see a manifestation of the same problem on Twitter — people only see the text and they don't click on the link," he said. "I don't really see it addressing issues of misinformation."

WhatsApp should allow users to choose whether a message can be forwarded, and label every forwarded message with an attribution to the original composer, Pahwa suggested.

Pressure from the Indian government is unlikely to ease anytime soon, particularly ahead of national elections in 2019.

WhatsApp is already working with India's Election Commission and various political parties to "prevent misuse" of the platform, a company spokesperson said in a statement.

"In India the government seems very concerned about the elections and the impact that misinformation and disinformation are having on elections," Pahwa said. "My sense is that they are looking to act very quickly and regulate platforms like Facebook."

-- Aayushmaan Thakur contributed to this report.

Huntsville
Few Clouds
89° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 91°
Florence
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 93°
Fayetteville
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 86°
Decatur
Few Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 88°
Scottsboro
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 89°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 94827

Reported Deaths: 1674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12486232
Mobile9420204
Montgomery6449148
Madison516130
Tuscaloosa405769
Baldwin338023
Unassigned319060
Shelby316432
Marshall306034
Lee258844
Morgan229517
Etowah204128
DeKalb174513
Calhoun167213
Elmore167238
Walker149864
Houston134812
Dallas130523
St. Clair128915
Russell12772
Limestone126113
Franklin123820
Cullman118912
Colbert114113
Lauderdale112315
Autauga105021
Escambia104416
Talladega96713
Jackson9244
Tallapoosa84179
Chambers83538
Dale80223
Blount7593
Butler75635
Chilton7456
Coffee7365
Covington71620
Pike6877
Lowndes56724
Barbour5655
Marion56224
Marengo53614
Clarke4949
Hale46426
Bullock45011
Winston44011
Perry4364
Wilcox41410
Bibb4134
Monroe4084
Randolph39410
Conecuh37810
Pickens3779
Sumter36018
Lawrence3321
Macon32013
Washington32012
Crenshaw3123
Choctaw27712
Cherokee2587
Greene24911
Henry2493
Geneva2480
Clay2375
Lamar2122
Fayette1835
Cleburne1251
Coosa1012
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 116350

Reported Deaths: 1186
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby22212300
Davidson20001211
Rutherford629853
Hamilton588449
Knox429837
Williamson340525
Sumner331672
Unassigned30368
Out of TN283116
Wilson219023
Bradley181712
Montgomery181513
Sevier17916
Putnam167716
Trousdale15786
Robertson150619
Hamblen134614
Blount12229
Maury11597
Tipton11559
Washington11312
Madison98415
Bedford90111
Sullivan89512
Hardeman85815
Macon85513
Lake7650
Loudon7053
Bledsoe6861
Dickson6521
Fayette6528
Anderson6516
Gibson6444
Dyer5937
Cheatham5697
Lawrence5276
Jefferson5253
Henderson5172
Rhea5171
McMinn50920
Obion4904
Coffee4823
Warren4794
Carter4735
Lauderdale4558
Hardin4447
Cocke4392
Haywood4356
Smith4294
Roane4232
Greene4187
Hawkins4167
Cumberland3986
Monroe3979
Giles36913
Weakley3633
McNairy3515
DeKalb3312
Franklin3024
Marshall2753
Carroll2723
Lincoln2681
Crockett2534
Henry2480
Hickman2480
White2465
Claiborne2420
Campbell2291
Johnson2250
Wayne2242
Marion2134
Chester2062
Grainger1890
Decatur1883
Polk1853
Overton1551
Unicoi1480
Union1410
Cannon1360
Benton1261
Humphreys1183
Jackson1121
Scott1100
Grundy1082
Sequatchie1000
Meigs990
Morgan981
Fentress790
Hancock771
Perry770
Stewart740
Clay710
Lewis671
Houston560
Moore550
Van Buren350
Pickett301

Community Events