It Will Take A Hell Of A Lot More Than Whatsapp Tweaks To Fix Our Global Disinformation Problem

from the ill-communication dept

With increased regulatory pressure surrounding the platform's ability to help distribute disinformation (often to bloody and disastrous effect), Facebook owned Whatsapp this week announced it would be more tightly restricting how app messages can be forwarded. Under the new system, if a user receives a "highly forwarded" message – one which has been forwarded more than five times – that user will only be able to send it on to a single chat at a time. Previously, users could forward these messages on to five people at a time, a limit that was implemented last year.

It doesn't block all message forwarding (you can still smash the forward button individually as many times as you like), but it does implement a little "friction" in a bid to slow mass forwarding in general. Over at the Whatsapp blog, the company explains its thinking:

"Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not. We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers. However, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation."

Last year, Whatsapp says it introduced double arrow labels to indicate that forwarded messages were not from a "close contact," trying to make it clearer which messages were effectively from someone you trust, versus mass forwarded memes or spam. It's not entirely clear yet how impactful this will be in places like India, where, for several years, misinformation has helped fuel violence against religious minorities.

But as we've noted previously, these problems often go well beyond just Whatsapp, making it illogical to place the entire onus for fixing the problems squarely on Whatsapp's shoulders. There's also a mountain of cultural and technical issues (like managing what's sent inside of encrypted messages) that makes the assumption that Whatsapp can "just fix this" overly simplistic. Still, with the app now being used to spread bogus Coronavirus information, the stakes have grown higher, and the calls from regulators and governments to "do more" have grown exponentially.

But again, there's numerous factors at play, and it has long been clear that any solution is likely complicated and multi-faceted.

In many countries, social media applications have been conflated with the internet itself, creating a walled garden "internet" that consists of just a few apps and sources, creating a less open echosphere where it's easier than ever to spread disinformation. Often that's by design as we saw with Facebook's "Zero Basics" program, which attempted to help the company corner developing nation ad markets by offering free access to a Facebook "curated" selection of content -- but not access to the full internet. Add in government censorship, and it gets even more complicated.

That's not to say Whatsapp shouldn't continue to experiment with ideas to slow the spread of mis and disinformation. The company has helped promote a World Health Organization bot aimed at providing more accurate information, and it recently donated $1 million to the International Fact-Checking Network.

But because of the scope and complexity of the problem, it's going to take a hell of a lot more than just Whatsapp tweaks to fix a global, surging disinformation problem. It's going to require a cooperative, global shift in media literacy and critical thinking -- combined with mass collaboration between governments, platforms, academics, and users -- with nary a single silver bullet anywhere in sight.

Filed Under: disinformation, misinformation, sharing, social media
Companies: facebook, whatsapp


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2020 @ 12:51pm

    But Karl, if certain people were not busy publicly trying to solve hard or impossible problems, other people might realize that they are not doing a good job at (or maybe at all) with simpler problems that actually are their responsible

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 8 Apr 2020 @ 12:51pm

    a cooperative, global shift in media literacy and critical thinking -- combined with mass collaboration between governments, platforms, academics, and users

    OK, quick, everyone, hold your breath!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Apr 2020 @ 1:10pm

      Re:

      "a cooperative, global shift in media literacy and critical thinking -- combined with mass collaboration between governments, platforms, academics, and users"

      OK, all of you who are collaborating with the government, line up on the right, thank you, both of you. And those of you who are practicing critical thinking without a license line up on the left, thank you, all twelve of you. The rest of you are supposed to be observing social distancing, so go home, stay 6 feet away from your loved ones, and don't breath.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2020 @ 1:02pm

    As a significant driver of conspiracy theories and other disinformation is a lack of trust in government, the more government push for information control, the more they fuel conspiracy theories.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2020 @ 3:58pm

      Re:

      Probably because authorities pushing for more information control is often legitimate evidence of a conspiracy.

      That is: there is a positive correlation between aggressive control of 'the narrative' and authorities abusing their minions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2020 @ 4:18pm

      Re:

      It appears that there are two separate strains of conspiracy theory and disinformation but it isn't the whole. Lack of trust in government based upon rational reasons is Reasoned Doubt, reasonable, and responds to real evidence. Reasoned Doubt is a good thing and if they ever wanted to seriously address it would need transparency and evident lack of conflict of interest.

      Doubt does make "rumors" or unverified sources more credible but logic still applies to it. Before the leaks of the domestic wire tapping programming Room 641A was a rumor. It is Reasoned Doubt to suspect that a police officer isn't being honest about the 12 year old pulling a gun on him first even in lack of hard evidence because yeah, they would also say that if they had an itchy trigger finger.

      That said the other ugly counterpart to conspiracy theories and disinformation is that it is often for emotional reasons more than anything rational and they also existed when trust in government was far higher than they deserved. Often some other scapegoat is blamed instead like the long history of blaming things on the Jews. Some smokers still believe that tobacco doesn't cause cancer. This kind is highly resistant to facts and trustworthiness. People who believe that Prime Ministers are literal lizardmen or that the Satanic Ritual Panic aren't after the truth but validation instead.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2020 @ 6:17am

    what?

    I find it hard to believe that people lie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheJourney (profile), 11 Apr 2020 @ 6:46am

    Re: Disinformation

    Disinformation/Misinformation are the ancient tools used to pit people and societies against each other.
    Targeted individuals of the STASI East Berlin 1930's lost everything. Today I simply witness a repeat of this ancient tool being used against society and individuals again.
    Supposedly, the Nazi's where eliminated...or where they? Who are the real Nazi's? Because this game is all about control of the masses and Hitler isn't here!
    The Rothschild family however is here. Without conspiracy and fact alone, this family has ruled finances for over 200 years.
    They own central banks in all countries except 3. They killed Gaddafi so they could take Lybian gold and control the country. Gaddafi refused to trade with the US.
    The Rothschilds also created Crypto currency and the dark web silk road etc...using the veil of privacy as the catch to lure people into a cashless society where they would have full control and no one would get ahead or own anything unless they became puppets for them. Cashless society exposes us all to the complete domineering will of the establishment PTB puppets to the Rothschilds family Hence the end of all human freedoms.
    Covid-19 is a real virus, created to begin the depopulation, program, to place fear into the people, to pit people against each other in fear and complete final division of the masses through self isolation!
    There are only limited option to stop this.
    Protect yourself first with D3 vitamins lots of water and potassium.
    Shop at local small business stores no malls or large department stores or grocery stores if possible.
    Use cash only...get rid of debit and credit cards.
    Pay rent in cash and accept only cash in payment for anything owed to you.
    If you employ people, pay them in cash no direct deposit.
    If you pay bills through direct deposit STOP! Write a check or pay cash.
    Cash cash cash! Any small local store refusing cash is operating on behalf of the Nazi totalitarian government! Do not shop with them...SHOP only where you can use cash and where cash is appreciated. It's your only defeat. RESIST help your neighbors if you can .

    Be safe and well everyone! Peace, Love, Guidance, Protection!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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