On a scorching morning in India’s vacationer mecca of Jaipur, an open truck painted within the signature lime-green colours of Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service pulls right into a dusty lane, the place 5 males spill out and start to carry out a skit.
The occasion is a part of a significant grassroots effort by WhatsApp to battle fake news, which has triggered quite a few lynchings in a rustic the place 200 million folks use the service, greater than anyplace else on the planet.
The actors quickly draw a crowd because the play unveils how spreading misinformation on-line can fire up mob violence, particularly within the countryside, the place caste and non secular prejudices run deep.
“Our society is better than theirs and that’s why you should hate them,” says one, citing one instance of an incendiary textual content circulating on WhatsApp in India. “If you are truly one of us, spread this message.”
Such texts, footage and movies goal to sow discord, warns one other, because the viewers within the capital of India’s western desert state of Rajasthan are then advised how to establish forwarded messages and use WhatsApp responsibly.
The drive follows intense authorities strain for each Facebook and WhatsApp to combat fake news and rumor-mongering which have led to greater than 30 deaths in about 70 lynching makes an attempt since Jan. 2017, information portal IndiaSpend says.
The marketing campaign is not totally altruistic. It is being run together with Reliance Jio, the fast-growing Telecom service managed by billionaire Mukesh Ambani that lately made WhatsApp accessible on its $20 JioCellphone.
Instructions on how to put in and use the app on the JioCellphone, which has linked tens of tens of millions of low-income Indians to the Internet for the primary time, are additionally part of the 10-city roadshow.
Hundreds of individuals from WhatsApp and Jio are serving to drive the marketing campaign, with some WhatsApp staff having flown in from California, a WhatsApp spokeswoman mentioned in an emailed assertion, including that the corporate didn’t reveal monetary particulars. A supply aware of the matter mentioned the prices have been largely being paid by WhatsApp.
WhatsApp’s efforts to battle fake news in India embrace a restrict on forwarded messages in a market the place extra customers cross round messages, pictures and movies than every other.
It has launched newspaper and radio campaigns and tied up with Delhi-based non-profit Digital Empowerment Foundation to develop a digital literacy curriculum for India.
The firm is additionally coaching police and regulation enforcement officers to make use of WhatsApp in serving to them do their jobs.
“Our goal is to drive one of the largest coordinated public education efforts on misinformation to date anywhere in the world,” WhatsApp mentioned.
India’s know-how minister has demanded the corporate do extra, together with understanding how to hint the origin of “sinister” messages. But WhatsApp says it won’t take such steps, which might require it to weaken encryption and different privateness protections.
It is not clear how a lot the general public data campaigns will change folks’s conduct. But in Jaipur, not less than a few of the messages appear to be getting by means of.
“I learnt how to quit a WhatsApp group created by strangers,” mentioned Bhawani Singh Rathore, a 35-year-old trainer, who started utilizing the service simply months in the past and attended.
“And I also learned how to identify a forwarded message and to not send it ahead without checking its accuracy,” he advised Reuters.