WhatsApp cares deeply about the safety of our users in India and around the world. In the run-up to the 2019 national election, WhatsApp has made significant product changes and worked with partners across civil society to help address the harmful consequences of misinformation. Our approach involves three lines of effort:
While there is no single action that can resolve the complex challenges contributing to misinformation, we are committed to helping do our part to ensure that WhatsApp continues to be a force for good in India.
Forwarded label: WhatsApp added a label that highlights when a user receives a message that has been forwarded to them. This helps people know when a message they have received was not created by the person who sent it - and we encourage users to think before sharing messages that are forwarded.
Education advertising campaign: Building on this product change, WhatsApp launched a nationwide campaign called “Share Joy, Not Rumors” in over 10 languages across multiple formats including television, print, online, and radio to help prevent the spread of rumors and fake news. The campaign was designed to reach hundreds of millions of people making it one of the largest public education campaigns on misinformation to date in India. You can watch three films WhatsApp produced in partnership with Taproot Dentsu and Oink films here.
WhatsApp safety page: We created these WhatsApp Safety Tips to educate users about how to manage their privacy settings, block unwanted users, report problems, and enable two-factor verification to have the best possible experience on WhatsApp.
Group privacy setting: We've introduced a new privacy setting and invite system to help users decide who can add them to groups. This significant change increases user privacy and prevents people from being added to unwanted groups.
Admin controls: We made a number of changes to WhatsApp groups that empower users with new controls. We launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who can send messages within groups.
Forward limit: We set a limit on forwarding messages to just five chats at once, making WhatsApp one of the few technology companies to intentionally constrain sharing. This reduced the amount of forwarded messages on WhatsApp in India by over 25 percent. We continue to explore new solutions to address the spread of viral misinformation.
Banning spam accounts: WhatsApp has advanced machine learning technology that works around the clock to identify and ban accounts engaging in bulk or automated messaging so they can’t be used to spread misinformation. Through this approach we ban 2 million accounts from WhatsApp per month, 75 percent of them without a recent user report. We published a white paper on the impact of these efforts.
Updated reporting: WhatsApp made several changes to its reporting functions within the app. Previously WhatsApp provided a function to “Report Spam.” Now this function is called “Report” to encourage users to inform us about a range of potential issues they encounter on WhatsApp. In addition, we now provide the option for people to keep reported messages on their phone if they want to share them with fact checkers or law enforcement officials.
Grievance Officer: As part of establishing our operations in India, we identified a Grievance Officer who can be contacted directly if a user has a concern about their WhatsApp experience and is unable to report it through other channels.
Growing a local team: WhatsApp hired Abhijit Bose to lead WhatsApp India. Abhijit is the first country leader for WhatsApp and will grow a local team that can further develop relationships with civil society and respond to the Government of India on a timely basis. This team will include local legal, policy, and business teams that can work with our Indian partners on common goals, such as increasing financial inclusion and digital literacy across India.
Collaboration with Election Commission of India (ECI): WhatsApp has had regular interaction with the ECI to explain our approach to the Indian elections and how we can work together most effectively with WhatsApp.
Law enforcement training: In coordination with the Government of India, we provided training to law enforcement on how to use WhatsApp as a resource in their community. Officials learned how to respond to citizens on WhatsApp and how to make legal requests of WhatsApp in the process of investigating a crime.
Political party education: In partnership with the Swaniti Initiative, WhatsApp facilitated political party trainings in the nine Indian states reaching 2,600 workers from nine political parties to discuss the importance of using WhatsApp responsibly. The training emphasizes that sending WhatsApp messages to users without their permission can lead to their accounts being banned.
Digital literacy training: Working with respected local experts, WhatsApp developed a training curriculum to help users spot rumors and stay safe. We have two active partnerships to train people across India, including a project with the Digital Empowerment Foundation focused on 10 states, and another with NASSCOM Foundation that aims to reach approximately 100,000 Indians with trainings to spot false information and provide tips & tricks to stay safe on WhatsApp. WhatsApp provided the curriculum we developed to the Government of India, which in turn has made it available on their education portal.
Checkpoint research project: We are supporting PROTO, an India-based media skilling startup, to research misinformation shared during the election. Users can submit potential misinformation to the Checkpoint tipline so it can be entered into a database of rumors. When possible, Checkpoint will respond to users to inform them if something they submitted is verified or false.
WhatsApp research awards: WhatsApp has awarded 20 independent research grants to help inform our product development and safety efforts going forward.