Whatsapp has introduced a fact checking feature allowing users to cross-examine the content of viral messages, as the Facebook-owned messaging app attempts to weed out misinformation across the platform.
The new feature, which is being rolled out in six countries including the UK from today, will allow users to perform a Google search on forwarded messages in a bid to fact check viral content.
Users will be able to cross-examine information by tapping a magnifying glass icon set to appear next to messages forwarded to five or more people.
The move comes as online misinformation has proliferated during the pandemic, with conspiracy theories about vaccines and 5G gaining global traction.
“Today, we’re piloting a simple way to double-check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat,” said WhatsApp.
“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.”
Attempts to stem the spread of misinformation on Whatsapp have been stalled by the company’s commitment to encryption.
The new fact checking feature will not interfere with encryption, and will instead hand users the ability to do the fact checking. Whatsapp will not be able to view the content of encrypted messages or related fact checking searches.
“This feature works by allowing users to upload the message via their browser without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself,” the company said.
WhatsApp has introduced a feature allowing users to check the contents of viral messages in the latest move to root out disinformation and fake news being spread on the Facebook-owned service. The feature, which is being piloted in six countries including the UK from Tuesday, allows users to perform a Google search on content they have been forwarded to factcheck claims and information.
Chad Anderson, senior security researcher at Domain Tools said the update was “an extremely encouraging development for a company mired by accusations that they have facilitated fake news in developing economies”.
“Whatsapp has an estimated 1.5 billion monthly users, and in developing democracies such as India where Whatsapp counts 200m user base, it has become a substitute of town-square talk.
“For a feature such as this to be introduced is a big blow to those who would seek to subvert democracy by peddling disinformation.”
It comes after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by US legislators in Washington last week over the spread of fake news on his platforms.
In a six-hour hearing, Zuckerberg and other tech bosses were questioned over plans to crack down on the spread of misinformation on their platforms, as part of a government probe into their companies’ size and power.
Earlier this year, Whatsapp introduced a cap on the number of people messages can be forwarded to, in a bid to crack down on the rapid spread of fake news on the patofrm.
Viral messages can now only be forwarded on to one more person, instead of the previous limit of five. Whatsapp said that the fresh measures have so far cut the spread of viral messages by 70 per cent.