In the past two months, more than 20 people across India have been murdered by mob provoked by fake viral videos of alleged child abduction spiralling on social media platforms like WhatsApp.
Though WhatsApp, in its first effort to combat fake messages, recently published advertisements in key Indian newspapers to tackle the spread of misinformation but still the false and fake news spreading like wilfire are costing lives of human by humans.
Recently, When Verify.Wiki LLC – a start-up that fights False News through a methodology called “reverse virality” – by combining crowdsourcing with social networking- saw the recent lynching incidents in India due to False WhatsApp messages, it immediately sprang into action. The company picked Chennai as a pilot city to test if it could prevent another tragedy.
On July 13th, 2018, the company noticed two suspected False News stories propagating via WhatsApp, one asking people to punish a school teacher in Perambur, Chennai for hitting and kicking little children, and another circulating a young female doctor’s photo, claiming she was treating patients for free in Chennai. Both these posts went viral on WhatsApp and Facebook in Chennai.
“The team immediately kicked off the pilot. They first learnt that the video that was circulated was from a school in Egypt, recorded in 2014, not from Perambur, Chennai. They also quickly uncovered the other story about the doctor was also false, propagated by a person who steals profile photos of young women from Facebook”, said Siva Nadarajah, an adviser and investor at Verify.Wiki who recently requested the company to help with the deadly False News crisis in India.
Once the stories were verified to be false through crowdsourced research, Verify.Wiki said its “reverse virality” approach ensured the propagation of the False News was stopped within hours. With reverse virality, the corrected version of the False News, was propagated back through the same path the story originated, via WhatsApp and Facebook, targeting those who might have consumed the False News.
“We were able to stop both the False News stories within a few hours. We also noticed the propagation of those two false stories completely stopping within 24 hours.”, added Siva Nadarajah.
“Imagine if Wikipedia and Facebook had a baby. You combine crowdsourcing with social networking. It’s so powerful when it comes to transparency and credibility in fighting False News. We stopped seven False News stories just within two weeks of our pilot in Chennai. Some are harmless and some are deadly. The nice thing is anyone can anonymously submit a suspected False News and everyone can participate in the verification activities. It’s a democratic process to fight False News”, added Siva Nadarajah.
Facebook, the parent company of WhatsApp recently took full page newspaper advertisements to warn people of False News propagating via WhatsApp, after lynching incidents killed dozens of people across India.