Aiming to take on encrypted messaging platform Telegram, WhatsApp has released a new feature for its groups which is essentially a “one-way broadcast” communication stream.
“Today, we’re launching a new group setting where only admins are able to send messages to a group. One way people use groups is to receive important announcements and information, including parents and teachers at schools, community centres, and non-profit organisations,” the Facebook-owned company wrote in a blog post late on Friday.
To enable this new feature, users have to open “Group Info,” and select “Only Admins”.
The company is rolling out the feature to all users around the world, who are on the latest supported versions of the app.
Another new feature that is being rolled out is group description which is essentially a short blurb found under group information that allows users to set the purpose, guidelines or topics for the group.
Taking cognisance of the Indian government’s concerns over the misuse of its platform for repeated circulation of provocative content, Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Wednesday wrote to the IT Ministry, saying the company is horrified by terrible acts of violence.
The IT Ministry on Tuesday asked WhatsApp to take immediate action and ensure that the platform is not used for such malafide activities over the growing instances of lynching of innocent people owing to large number of irresponsible messages filled with rumours and provocation circulated on the mobile messaging platform.
“Thank you for your letter dated July 2. Like the Government of India, we’re horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised. We believe this is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together,” WhatsApp said in the reply to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
WhatsApp, which has over 200 million monthly active users in India, listed several measures it is taking or has already put in action to control the spread of misinformation and abuse on its platform.
“We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender.
“This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumor from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon,” the company informed.
According to media reports, over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp.
In Mid-May, said WhatsApp, it added new protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left — a form of misuse they thought it is important to correct.
“Last week, we launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations – as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content,” the popular messaging platform noted.
WhatsApp has also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation.
“The fact-checking organisation Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published some reports on the source of the rumours that have contributed to the recent violence,” the company said.
While WhatsApp messages can be highly viral, the way people use the app is by nature still very private.
“Many people (nearly 25 per cent in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than 10 people); and nine in 10 messages are still sent from just one person to another,” WhatsApp informed.
The company also asked to Indian government to talk further about the actions it is taking and its plans going forward.
“With the right action we can help improve everyone’s safety by ensuring communities are better equipped to deal with malicious hoaxes and false information — while still enabling people to communicate reliably and privately across India,” it noted.