In recent months, fake news on WhatsApp in India has inspired citizens to form deadly lynch mobs. Take that in: false articles, spread on WhatsApp, have driven Indian citizens to murder.
To address this startling problem, WhatsApp has created the role of grievance officer,according to the Times of India. WhatsApp users can contact the grievance officer to report “complaints and concerns,” including those about fake news.
It has appointed Komal Lahiri, whose LinkedIn lists her title as senior director, global customer operations and localization, to the role. Lahiri has been with WhatsApp for the past seven months, and with Facebook since August 2014. She will work in the United States. WhatsApp reportedly created the role in August.
Mashable has reached out to WhatsApp to clarify Lahiri’s role — whether she will serve as a compliance officer just for India, or globally. And whether she will lead a new dedicated team to fight fake news in India. We will update this story when and if we hear back.
Fake news, spread on WhatsApp, began sparking lynch mobs in May. False reports about child and organ trafficking resulted in the murder of five people. A government-hired bard of sorts, who was sent into communities to preach caution about false news to the relatively new internet users who are most susceptible, was also murdered. In total, 12 people have been killed.
In the wake of these killings, the Indian government made demands of WhatsApp. During a meeting between Indian PM Ravi Shankar Prasad and WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels, Prasad said that WhatsApp must have a local presence in India, must comply with Indian laws, and that it must appoint a grievance officer. Lahiri’s appointment comes in response to that request.
The Indian government also asked WhatsApp to help identify the user origin of some messages. But WhatsApp said that it cannot comply with that request because the service is end-to-end encrypted, so it does not have access to that sort of data.
WhatsApp has taken additional internal action to fight its fake news problem. It made changes about forwarding messages to prevent or at least slow the spread of viral news: Forwarded messages are now labeled as such, and forwarding is limited to 20 people at a time. It also commissioned studies about how fake news spread, offering $50,000 to prospective researchers.
WhatsApp is increasingly becoming the leading way that people get their news, especially in the developing world. WhatsApp’s responsibility to educate users, change features, and make dedicated hires will only grow as WhatsApp continues to expand — and drive increased profits for its parent company, Facebook.