Fake News!

For anyone using Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Fake News is a major issue.  In India, forwarding messages, photos is very common.  Its very rare for someone using WhatsApp in India to not receive atleast 1000 (the actual number might even be more than this) forwards in various groups they are part of.   So it’s very easy for a message (fake or real) to get circulated to thousands of groups in a very short time.  Recently there have been instances of wrong information getting circulated in India on WhatsApp resulting in lynching innocent individuals.  You can read some of it here -> https://news.sky.com/story/arrests-made-after-mob-lynch-man-targeted-by-fake-news-on-whatsapp-11437660

The responsibility of preventing and recognizing fake news lies as much with the social media platform as with the individual receiving/reading it, and then forwarding it. Every one reading or watching any news must make their own judgement, and try to review if the news is genuine or not. After receiving a news or a video or a photo on WhatsApp or Facebook, which looks to be a news story, one of the 1st things I do, is to immediately go to the browser and try to search for the news on the internet. In most of the instances, I end up getting a hit telling me that this is a fake news and same was circulated few months/years back as well.  Every individual using these platforms has a responsibility to verify the information before forwarding any message.

At the same time, there are lots of newer technologies which can help the platform like WhatsApp to try and filter fake news.  I have read recently that WhatsApp is working on a feature to inform the user that a post is forwarded rather than an original message by the sender.  Today in WhatsApp, almost 90% of posts are forwards (I am excluding posts like Good Morning, Happy Birthday, Thumbs up from this statistic).  Simply knowing that it’s a forward still would not tell the receiver if it’s a genuine or fake.  Especially in India where forwards are common, Whatsapp just announced that they will limit forward to only 5 groups.  Would this stop the menace?  I doubt.  It will reduce, but will not end.

With the advances in Machine Learning, a lot can be done by these platforms.  My thoughts on what these platforms can do:

  • Anything forwarded should go through a filtering process of auto-searching on Google, other major news sites. Unfortunately, I wrote in my earlier blog post (https://techmusingstoday.com/whatsapp-is-it-secure/), the contents are encrypted and WhatsApp does not have access to the content.  So it cannot read and filter messages. I am sure there are different ways this can be achieved, one of them being to detect/filter in the app, or provide an option to the user to verify the authenticity with a button in the app.
  • WhatsApp or any platform can detect if the message was created or was forwarded. Creators identity can be stored in the messages so receiver can always trace back the identity of the creator of the message.
  • Fake or Photoshop’ed images is another nuisance. There are lot of ways to detect Photoshop’ed Images.  One of the article is here.  So any image (unless it’s coming directly from the camera) being posted should go through a rigorous test by the social media platform, and provide a mechanism to the user to check it’s authenticity.

But ultimately, we, the users need to be more vigilant.  Look carefully before forwarding.  So it’s all the users & the social media platform need to come together and fight this menace of fake news.

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