Social Media

Fake news issue: Govt portal starts advocacy on WhatsApp safety for students, others

PTI New Delhi | Updated on August 15, 2018 Published on August 15, 2018

The intent is to curb viral circulation of misinformation on social media and make public “adept” in spotting fake news

As part of its crackdown on misuse of social media, the government has started an advocacy drive based on ‘learning material’ offered by WhatsApp to create awareness among students, government officials and others around the issue of fake news.

The latest campaign, being run by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) on a portal -- infosecawareness.in -- is targeted at school children and youth as well as government officials, and seeks to create awareness around dos and dont’s of WhatsApp messaging.

IT ministry sources said while government is working on various initiatives to ensure that social media platforms become more accountable, efforts are also on to increase awareness about fake news among citizens through focussed-awareness drives.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has drawn flak from the government over fake news and rumours circulating on its platform that led to multiple incidents of mob-lynching across the country. India had issued two notices to WhatsApp, warning that it will treat the messaging platform as abettor of rumour propagation and legal consequences will follow, if adequate checks are not put in place.

When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the platform has “made significant changes to the app and we have met with digital literacy experts, government representatives to inform them about these changes”.

“We have also launched a public awareness campaign in several regional languages to help people recognise fake news,” the spokesperson added.

Sources in IT Ministry said the Centre plans to engage with state governments to emphasise the role they can play in sensitising students and teachers on online safety.

The intent is to curb the viral circulation of misinformation on social media and make public “adept” in spotting fake news on popular platforms, they added.

The government also plans to leverage its network of Common Service Centres to promote such campaigns, especially in rural areas where there has been an explosion in data services with the availability of affordable smartphones and falling tariffs.

The content placed on the portal has been prepared using material submitted by WhatsApp in response to government’s notices, and requests users to check the information in the message received, before they forward it to others. It also suggests that users ensure their accounts have the optimum privacy settings.

These efforts tie-in with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s statement in July in Parliament flagging the misuse of social media for circulation of rumours and fake news that have led to “rising incidents of violence and lynching in the country“.

In response to government’s notices, WhatsApp had outlined initiatives it is taking to curb fake news circulation, including education and advocacy efforts. It has also introduced forward label and limited forwarding of messages to five people at one go. It is also building an India-based team.

Sources said that the government, however, is unconvinced with WhatsApp’s response as its key demand of ‘traceability’ and attribution of messages has remained unaddressed by the messaging giant that has over 20 crore users in India.

Published on August 15, 2018

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