NEW DELHI: WhatsApp has received over 75,000 requests from people asking the company to authenticate messages they received after launching an India tip line number for this purpose a month ago, the company said.

The India tip line was set up under a research project to combat fake news during the general elections held over seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and was launched by PROTO, an India-based media skilling startup.

“The response on the tipline has been tremendous and has received over 75,000 claims since the launch, in five languages — Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam and English,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

WhatsApp had said in April that the tip line would help create a database of rumours for the study of misinformation during the elections for Checkpoint, a research project commissioned and technically assisted by WhatsApp.

“As more data flows in, we continue to identify the issues, languages, regions that are most susceptible to or affected by this problem. We noticed duplicate or related claims were mostly about public service information messages related to voters’ rights, surveys from states where assembly and Lok Sabha polls coincided and memes evoking nationalist pride like Make in India trains…Campaign posters and statements related to important political leaders came in for verification several times in a day,” said Nasr Ul Hadi and Ritvvij Parrikh, co-founders, PROTO.

“There was a lot of inflow in regional languages — but most claims were related to the two national parties, and based on items attributed (not by the PROTO team) to their rival’s IT cells,” the founders said.

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WhatsApp said in the first week of April that people in India could send unverified messages they received on their phones to WhatsApp number +91-9643-000-888 to be cross-checked.

It said news consultancy Dig Deeper Media and San Francisco-based Meedan, which builds digital tools for verification and fact-checking and has worked on projects like Electionland in the US and CrossCheck in France, were helping Proto in developing the verification and research frameworks for India.

The Facebook-owned messaging platform had said Meedan will maintain the database of rumours that will be processed. It said Meedan had developed technology to verify messages and that it had expanded its Check platform developed for recent elections in Mexico and France and integrated it with the WhatsApp Business API (application programming interface) to receive and respond to messages.

Proto’s verification centre would respond to user requests through the tip line to validate suspicious messages and indicate whether the information is true, false, misleading, disputed or out of scope and any other related information that is available.

The centre was supposed to review messages in the form of pictures, video links and text. WhatsApp had said Proto would encourage grassroots organisations to submit suspected rumours circulating across various regions in India during the election period.





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