WhatsApp offers $50,000 for ideas to stop fake news spread as India orders it to take action over lynchings

WhatsApp has offered an award of $50,000 (£37,800) to anyone who can help stop the spread of fake news on its platform following a spate of deadly lynchings in India sparked by viral rumours.

At least 20 people have been killed in attacks by mobs, mostly in rural villages, that had been inflamed by social media. 

Victims are attacked by mobs after being accused of being child traffickers in messaged widely circulated among communities on WhatsApp. 

The brutal attacks, which began in early May and are often filmed and distributed on social media, have also left dozens of people injured.

India’s government says it asked WhatsApp to take "immediate action" to prevent it from being misused to spread rumors leading to lynchings.

Although Indian authorities have stated that there is no truth to the rumors, and that the targeted people are innocent, the brutal attacks have spread across the country.

A man holds a mobile phone displaying a fake message shared on WhatsAppCredit:
Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

India’s ministry of electronics and information technology said in a statement late on Tuesday that the lynchings were tied to "irresponsible and explosive messages" circulated on WhatsApp. 

It did not specify which preventative measures it expected WhatsApp to take.

"While the law and order machinery is taking steps to apprehend the culprits, the abuse of platforms like WhatsApp for repeated circulation of such provocative content are equally a matter of deep concern," the ministry said.

It said WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, "cannot evade accountability and responsibility."

"The government has also conveyed in no uncertain terms that WhatsApp must take immediate action to end this menace," the statement said. 

Indian WhatsApp lynchings | A timeline

"Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the WhatsApp."

In response to the violence, WhatsApp said in a blog post that it would institute awards for research on "spread of misinformation" on its platform.

"We will seriously consider proposals from any social science and technological perspective that propose projects that enrich our understanding of the problem of misinformation on WhatsApp," the post said.

The funds of up to $50,000 will be allocated to research teams who will gather and analyse data in order to help stop the spread of misinformation on the platform. 

"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," it said. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *