The largest messaging app, WhatsApp has been taken into the task by the Indian government in the aftermath of killings across the country, which was, shockingly, sparked by fake news.

WhatsApp has launched a research program in several key markets, including India, to curb the menace created by circulation of fake news, and violence-inducing content. WhatsApp announced, “unrestricted monetary awards” for research on the spread of fake news on its mobile application to address the problem in hand.

Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation, announced by WhatsApp, manifests a bounteous cash prize of $50,000 per research proposal which is approximately Rs 34,44,500.

Trailing the missive manifested by Government of India urging Whatsapp to take immediate measures in order to prevent misuse of its platform, Whatsapp is rolling out several steps to square off the spread of misinformation. This roll-out includes a new label which distinguishes a forwarded message and composed message by highlighting one of both.

Repercussion of Fake News? Bloodbath!

The internet has been able to garner a wider demography than earlier. Indians have come to use apps like Facebook, and WhatsApp like never before and sure are having a gala time! However, there lies a darker side to it. This easy, hassle-free access to Internet has resulted in the proliferation of misinformation and hoaxes, at times horrendous enough, leading to the death of innocent people.

whatsapp research awards

WhatsApp and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter are being widely used for propagation of misleading information in the form of texts or videos or images, and these are potential enough to ignite vicious crimes.

India stands witness to a series of mob-lynching incidents over the last couple of years. Since May, at least 16 cases of lynching have been reported. Allegedly, these mob-lynching incidents are a result of hoaxes, falsely accusing innocent people as child kidnappers, and Whatsapp has acted like a medium, where these accusations were aggravated by rumours.

To cite one blood-curling instance,  a woman was killed and dozens were hurt in mob attacks, following a false rumour on WhatsApp, accusing them of being child abductors. Branding the woman as child kidnapper, the crowd pulled her out of a rickshaw and started thrashing them.

If this wasn’t enough to highlight the anachronistic and orthodox overall, Indians have adorned, as of now, another man was dragged on the road, followed by a mob of local residents who were beating him with cricket bats and rods. The man, about 26 years old was also accused of being a child kidnapper.

And these are not something fathomable. In the last thirteen months, this has resulted in irrational viciousness by lynch mobs leading to at least 22 reported deaths.

Whatsapp Research Awards; Drilling the Orthodox Mass!

Whatsapp has been coherent with the Government, stating that false news, misinformation and the spread of hoaxes are issues which can be tackled efficiently if government, civil society and technology companies come together and combat the injustice meted out to the innocent victims.

As a warm-up, WhatsApp plans to publish educational materials around misinformation. Additionally, it will conduct news literacy workshops, enlightening the general mass about hoaxes and the need to avoid them.

Now, what’s making headlines is the step taken by WhatsApp, wherein it commissions a set of global awards for researches, revolving around the spread of misinformation.

“Through this new project, we look forward to working with leading academic experts in India to learn more about how online platforms are used to spread misinformation. This local research will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education to help people spot false news and hoaxes.” – WhatsApp

Whatsapp has been clear at underlining the specifications it needs to be addressed. It, additionally, states that its preference is based on independent research, in which applicants develop conceptual tools and move further to investigate more about the issues and address them individually.

Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses.

The program will recognize awardees by offering a bounty of up to $50,000 per research proposal.

Curbing ‘Spread of Misinformation’

WhatsApp is giving much priority to the detection of problematic behaviour within its encrypted systems. Albeit, WhatsApp provides end-to-end encryption for all users, people can still get into illegal activities and misuse the platform, which obviously is no sifting container.

WhatsApp aims at monitoring the content being divulged on its platform and is particularly interested in understanding trends that facilitate the distribution of hoaxes.

The ultimate truth surfaces – India is not alien to pernicious practices of violence, or say, Child Trafficking. Obdurate anachronistic frenzy prevails in the interiors of modern India. The biggest paradox, however, is the internet-facility which ornaments even the rural demographic division, but cannot help a bigot, impulsive section from inflicting violence. Now, with Whatsapp and Government of India joining hands to curb the menace, one might take in a sigh of relief.

What remains to be seen (because that’s what the blacked-out Indian mass does) is the sort of benefit, this spam-prevention-management reaps in.