WhatsApp is clearly worried at the spate of incidents where misinformation shared on its platform has results in mob violence, especially in India. So to get a better understanding of the safety problems posed by rumours spread on its popular messaging platform, WhatsApp has announced that it is commissioning a competitive set of global awards to researchers interested in exploring these issues.
WhatsApp has been tackling the issue of misinformation in many ways. After marking forwarded messages, setting up resources with the platform to flag rumours and limiting noisiness in conversations, it is now going to educate people more about the topic.
The platform understands that though 90 percent of the messages on WhatsApp are between two people and a majority of group conversations are between six or less people, a lot of casual, viral forwards to go around, disrupting other important conversations. Being an encrypted platform, it does understand that it has lesser control compared to a Twitter or Facebook.
But at the same time WhatsApp is clear it wants to maintain its encrypted nature. By working with academics, WhatsApp wants to get advise and counsel from outside experts even as it innovates within the app itself.
“WhatsApp cares deeply about the safety of our users. 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,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told indianexpress.com.
WhatsApp has over 200 million monthly active users in India. “The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities. These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio,” a note said, adding that applications are welcome from “individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas”.
The goal of the study would also be to understand how a society reacts to misinformation, especially in the fringes of the connected world were how people receive and interpret a message might be very different. The awards will be of up to $50,000 per research proposal and the awardees will get to attend two workshops. WhatsApp has clarified that no data from its platform will be shared with the researchers. Their research data, on the other hand, will not be owned by WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is also looking at strong submissions from Brazil, its other strong market with over 120 million users.