In a bid to curb the spread of misinformation, WhatsApp has begun testing a new ‘Search the Web’ feature that makes it easier for users to verify and identify if messages received on the app are true.
The new feature displays a magnifying glass-shaped icon next to frequently forwarded messages that can be clicked to search the web for their contents and verify them.
The icon displays for messages that have been forwarded at least five times
The feature has already been rolled out for users in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, the UK, and the US.
Battling Misinformation in Nigeria
WhatsApp, Nigeria’s most popular messaging platform has a long history of helping to propagate false news in the country. Last year during the general elections, there were several instances where the platform was used to mislead voters.
Similarly, during the Ebola panic in 2014, false broadcasts made the rounds claiming hot water and salt were precautions. This reportedly claimed the lives of 2 people and hospitalized several others due to over-excessive salt consumption.
The false WhatsApp broadcast read: “Please ensure that you and your family and all your neighbours bathe with hot water and salt before daybreak today because of Ebola virus which is spreading through the air,“
To tackle the growing spread of misinformation, WhatsApp has introduced several features and imposed restrictions to better control the flow of information on the platform.
One of such restrictions is the 5 contacts forward limit which WhatsApp rolled out in April for any message that has been forwarded five or more times. The platform has also partnered with several fact-checking organizations across the globe to help people verify claims made in viral messages.
According to WhatsApp, the volume of “highly forwarded” messages dropped by 70% globally.
Although WhatsApp has taken several actions to stop misinformation, it has not vanished from the app. Mis-information on “cures” of the current COVID-19 virus were still doing rounds on the platform.
However, these restrictions together with the new feature when it rolls out in Nigeria is expected to significantly reduce the propagation of false messages through the platform in the country.
The feature is being piloted across WhatsApp’s Android, iOS and Web apps in selected markets. However, it is unclear when WhatsApp will roll it out globally.
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