WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, has started blocking or disabling chats for mobile phone numbers that are proved to be circulating fake news or objectionable election-related content that has been flagged by the Election Commission of India, ET has learnt.
The first WhatsApp number was deactivated before voting on April 11. It wasn’t immediately clear when or if the disablement would be lifted.
WhatsApp said in a recent communication to the Election Commission of India that it will block or disable its chat service on phone numbers provided that the poll panel shares screenshots of the objectionable content or fake news with it. Apart from WhatsApp’s action, 500 Facebook posts and links and two posts on Twitter were taken down during the 48-hour silent period before the first leg of polling, ECI officials confirmed to ET.
WhatsApp has taken steps recently to strengthen privacy and curb the spread of fake news and objectionable content. The company said on April 3 that its updated privacy settings require people to seek consent from users before adding them to chat groups. The move addresses concerns around privacy that the government had been raising for over six months. The privacy setting is currently in beta stage in India.
“We’ve introduced a new privacy setting and invite system to help users decide who can add them to groups. This significant change increases user privacy and prevents people from being added to unwanted groups,” WhatsApp said in the factsheet. “We made a number of changes to WhatsApp groups that empower users with new controls. We launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who can send messages within groups.”
The company said it has advanced machine learning technology that works around the clock to identify and ban accounts engaged in bulk or automated messaging so they can’t be used to spread misinformation. “Through this approach, we ban 2 million accounts from WhatsApp per month, 75% of them without a recent user report. We published a white paper on the impact of these efforts,” the company said.