Popular messaging service WhatsApp on Wednesday August 5 stepped up the fight against disinformation and fake news by rolling out a new feature to allow users to check the contents of viral messages.
The fact-check feature will appear as a magnifying glass icon next to messages that have been forwarded through five or more people.
Tapping on the icon will allow users to upload the message onto their Web browser to perform Google searches for related news, so users can do their fact-checking – without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself.
For instance, a screenshot on the WhatsApp blog shows that the feature will allow a message containing the claim that “drinking fresh boiled garlic water will cure COVID-19” to bring up three fact-checking websites stating that it is false.
“We’re piloting a simple way to double-check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat,” said WhatsApp in announcing the move on its blog on Monday August 3.
“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.”
The feature will be rolled out as a pilot initially in seven countries: Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Britain and the United States. Users will be required to download the latest version of the app.
Asked when the feature will be available for users in Singapore, a spokesman told The Straits Times: “We will be closely monitoring this pilot and will make any decisions on future phases based on user feedback to both WhatsApp and Google.”
Fake news have been rampant all over the country and last month, two bloggers were arrested by the DCI over false information detailing that Interior CS Fred Matiang’i developed COVID-19 complications and was admitted at the Aga Khan University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
It is the latest attempt by WhatsApp, which has 2 billion users worldwide, to slow the dissemination of fake news.
Earlier this year, WhatsApp tightened global limits on the forwarding of messages that had not come from a close contact to only a single chat at a time. The previous limit, introduced last year, was five chats.
The limit has been tightened gradually over the last two years. In 2018, the limit was 20 chats. Before that, users were able to forward a message to 250 groups at once.
Widely forwarded messages can be dangerous as they often come with the implicit approval of a friend or family member.