Despite WhatsApp emerging as a major platform for sharing news articles, it is a bigger source of fake news than Facebook. Photo: Reuters
Last week, Facebook-owned WhatsApp added a feature that will let only administrators send messages to a group. Mint looks at why the world’s largest messenger app, with 1.2 billion global users and 200 million Indian ones, added this feature.
How does the new feature work?
The feature provides an option which allows only the administrator to write or post in the group. The rest of the members can read the posts but cannot comment or reply. The feature is being rolled out to all devices that run the app’s latest version. Users can access it by opening Group Info> Group Settings> Send Messages> Only Admins. Only admins will be able to see these settings. Last month, the app added an option which lets admins restrict other members from modifying the group’s description, subject and icon.
What could have triggered this change?
Despite WhatsApp emerging as a major platform for sharing news articles, it is a bigger source of fake news than Facebook, according to a May 2018 report by Columbia Journalism Review. For instance, five people were lynched in Dhule in Maharashtra on Sunday after a fake WhatsApp message on alleged child traffickers sparked panic among locals. According to a May New York Times report, WhatsApp was also used to inflame tensions by disseminating fake news during the recently held Karnataka polls.
Are there any benefits from this move?
The feature can be used by schools to make emergency announcements. Stores can keep regular customers posted on new offers and merchandise.
Can this feature reduce fake news?
Unlike Facebook or Google, there are no trackers to flag fake news or rumours on WhatsApp. Besides, all messages on WhatsApp—including those in groups—are encrypted, which means no one can monitor or track what is being shared. With one-way groups, media firms can create their own groups and share links of their stories directly with their readers, who can share the authentic news further on other groups.
That sounds good. Will it be enough?
While this will provide more space for genuine news, it will not be enough to curb the use of WhatsApp for spreading misinformation and rumours. Moreover, a major limitation of WhatsApp groups is that it can accommodate only 256 users at a time. So a brand or media house will have to create several groups if they wish to reach out to a wider demographic of users, which sounds impractical. abhijit ahaskar