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WhatsApp has contributed to the global misinformation crisis. Now it is stuck in one.

WhatsApp has contributed to the global misinformation crisis. Now it is stuck in one.

Michael Reynolds/Getty Images

WhatsApp in a few hours Announced a new privacy policy For the nearly 2 billion people worldwide who use it, rumors are everywhere.

“Don’t accept WhatsApp’s new policy,” said one of the news that went viral on the platform. “Once you do this, your WhatsApp account will be linked to your Facebook account and Zuckerberg can see all your chat history.”

“In a few months, WhatsApp will launch a new version, which will show you ads based on your chat history,” another user said. “Do not accept the new policy!”

In the next few days, thousands of similar messages went viral on Facebook’s instant messaging app WhatsApp.At the instigation of celebrities such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk and whistleblower Edward Snowden, millions of people Rush Download alternatives to WhatsApp, such as Signal and Telegram.

There is only one problem: Judging from the 4,000-word policy, it is clear that the new changes only apply to situations where people use WhatsApp to chat with businesses, not with friends and family in private conversations.

No, the new terms will not allow Facebook to read your WhatsApp chat history, the company explained to anyone who asks.High-level release Long line Go to twitter and give Interview A large publication to India, the company’s largest market. WhatsApp spends millions of dollars on front-page ads in major newspapers and Published graphics Use a big “Share to WhatsApp” button to debunk the rumors on its website, hoping to inject some truth into the flow of misinformation spread through its platform. According to posts on its internal message board Workplace, the company also encourages Facebook employees to share these infographics.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “There is a lot of misinformation and confusion, so we are working hard to provide accurate information about how WhatsApp protects people’s personal conversations.” “We are using our presence function to communicate directly with people in WhatsApp and to Dozens of languages ​​publish accurate information on social media and our website. Of course, we also provide these resources to people who work in our company, so if they want, they can answer questions directly to friends and family.”

It didn’t work.

“There are a lot of misinformation that has caused people’s attention, and we want to help everyone understand our principles and facts,” WhatsApp wrote in a statement. Blog post It was announced last week that the company had postponed its new privacy policy for three months. It reads: “We will also do more to clear out misinformation about how WhatsApp privacy and security work.”

Thanks to everyone who helped. We are still working to resolve any confusion by communicating directly with @WhatsApp users. No one will suspend or delete their accounts on February 8th, we will move our business plan to after May-


Rumors and hoaxes spread through WhatsApp over the years Contributed to the misinformation crisis In some of the most populous countries in the world, such as Brazil and India, apps are the main way most people talk to each other. Now, this crisis has affected the company itself.

“The trust in the platform is [at a] Worst of all,” Claire Wardle, co-founder and director of First Draft, a non-profit organization that studies misinformation, told BuzzFeed News. “Over the years, people have paid more and more attention to the power of technology companies, especially when they are How much about our data. Therefore, when the privacy policy changes, people naturally worry about what it means. “

Wardle said that people are worried that WhatsApp will link their behavior on the app with the data in their Facebook account.

“Facebook and WhatsApp have huge trust deficits,” said Pratik Sinha, founder of Alt News, an Indian fact-checking platform. “Once you have it, any misinformation that is attributable to you will be easily consumed.”

Sinha and Wardle added that what is of no avail is ordinary people’s lack of understanding of how technology and privacy work. “Chaos is where misinformation floods,” Wardle said. “So people saw the policy changes and quickly came to conclusions. Unsurprisingly, many people believed the rumors.”

These misinformation patterns that have prevailed on WhatsApp for years often cause harm. In 2013, a video went viral in the northern Indian city of Muzaffarnagar. The video allegedly showed two young men being lynched, causing riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities, resulting in dozens of deaths.A kind Police investigation found That video has been more than two years old, and it was not even shot in India.In Brazil, fake news Flooded the platform It was used to support Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who won the country’s 2018 presidential election.

But the company didn’t seriously address its misinformation problem until 2018, when rumors about kidnapping children that swept the platform led A series of violent lynchings All of India.In a statement issued at the time, the Ministry of Information Technology of India caveat WhatsApp took legal action and stated that if the problem is not resolved, the company will be “deemed as an instigator”, putting WhatsApp in crisis mode. It flew executives from the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California to New Delhi to meet with government officials and reporters, and launched high-profile publicity campaigns around misinformation.

Sam Panthaky/Getty Images

In July 2018, India protested the lynching of mobsters. As a result of WhatsApp rumors, dozens of people were lynched across the country that year, which made the Indian authorities and WhatsApp scrambled to find a solution.

It also has new features built into the app to directly combat misinformation for the first time, such as Flag forwarded message with limit You can forward a piece of content to slow down the number of people or groups of viral content.Last August, it Also started Let people in a small number of countries upload the text of the message to Google to verify that the repost is fake. This feature is not yet available for WhatsApp users in India.

Since then, the company working In 2019, the tool will allow users to search for images they receive in the app with a single click, which will help people more easily perform fact-checking. However, after nearly two years, although the text version is available in more than a dozen countries (currently not including India), there is still no sign of this feature.

“We are still developing the search tool function,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

WhatsApp stated that the company hopes to provide clearer information on its new privacy policy. “We want to emphasize that this update will not expand our ability to share data with Facebook. Our goal is to provide transparency and new options for interacting with businesses so that they can serve customers and achieve growth,” the spokesperson said. “WhatsApp will always protect personal information with end-to-end encryption so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see them. We are working hard to resolve misinformation and answer any questions at any time.”

This week, the company placed a status message at the top of the people’s status section, and WhatsApp is equivalent to a Facebook story. Clicking on the status shows a series of company news to debunk the rumors.

BuzzFeed news screenshot

“WhatsApp will not share your contacts with Facebook,” said the first. Two other status updates clarified that WhatsApp cannot see where people are, nor can it read or listen to encrypted personal conversations. “We are committed to protecting your privacy,” the last message said.

According to internal communications reviewed by BuzzFeed News, on Thursday, employees asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg multiple questions before the weekly Q&A. Some people wonder whether the increasing shift to Signal and Telegram will affect WhatsApp usage and growth metrics. Others want the CEO to clarify whether Facebook uses any metadata from WhatsApp to serve ads.

“You think we can do better, explain clearly [the new privacy policy] To the user? “Someone asked.

“The public is angry about the changes in WhatsApp’s privacy policy,” another person commented. “The distrust of FB is so high, we should be more careful about it.”

Zuckerberg responded that he believes the company has not handled these changes well.

“The short answer is no, I don’t think we have handled the matter the way it should be,” he said. “And I think the team has been involved in everything-and there are many lessons to make sure we do better in the future, not just on WhatsApp TOS. But you know, we provide different apps and services Other TOS updates. We need to make sure that we do better in these two areas. In this way, we can minimize the amount of misinformation generated — and the amount — and minimize the confusion caused .”

Ryan Mack contributed reporting.

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