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.

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

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  1. 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!

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