Tuesday September 17, 2019
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WhatsApp Favourite Tool for Right-wing to Influence Voters, Find Researchers

The survey stated that 96 per cent of the sample population received fake news via WhatsApp

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FILE - The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

In a significant find, researchers have discovered that right-wing users are more effective in using Facebook-owned WhatsApp to spread news, disinformation and opinions during elections.

After performing the first large-scale analysis of partisan WhatsApp groups in the context of Brazil’s 2018 election, the researchers from Northwestern University found that right-wing groups in Brazil were much more numerous and shared substantially more multimedia content and YouTube videos than left-wing groups.

With more than 120 million users, Brazil is the second-largest WhatsApp market in the world after India which has 400 million users of the Facebook-owned platform.

“Our ultimate goal is to understand how information and misinformation spreads, so we can find technological interventions,” said Larry Birnbaum, the study’s senior author.

“We want to find ways to help people better evaluate the information they receive. Media literacy has not caught up with rapid changes in technology,” Birnbaum added.

From September 1 to November 1, 2018, Birnbaum and Victor Bursztyn followed 232 partisan groups.

During that time, they collected 2.8 million messages from more than 45,000 users (This is 3.5 times as many messages and 2.4 times as many users than the largest competing dataset to date).

The team discovered multiple differences between right- and left-wing groups.

In the studied sample, right-wing groups shared 5.5 times as many messages as left-wing users.

Of the messages shared by right-wing users, 46.5 per cent were multimedia messages, such as photos, audio and video files. Just 30 per cent of left-wing messages included multimedia.

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FILE – Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to logos of social media apps Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram projected on a screen in this picture illustration. VOA

“It’s hard to say whether multimedia is more effective in influencing opinions, but right-wingers are more savvy in using them,” said Birnbaum. “Images are always more compelling than text.”

They also found that the most-shared news by WhatsApp groups during the 2018 presidential election campaign came from websites that spread disinformation, as identified by several fact-checking agencies.

“Data suggests that both sides consume this content, but it’s a more prevalent problem on the right,” Birnbaum said.

The team will present their findings at the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining in Vancouver, Canana, on Friday.

During the general elections in India this year, WhatsApp was blamed for influencing voters.

WhatsApp turned out to be the biggest social media platform for more than 87,000 groups to target millions with political messaging, according to social media experts.

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Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a commentary piece, accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of influencing voters via social media platforms in Lok Sabha elections and WhatsApp being their favourite medium simply because of its massive reach.

Despite tall claims made by Facebook that it is removing 10 lakh fake accounts a day in India, a recent survey by online start-up Social Media Matters and New Delhi-based Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics revealed that one in two Indians receive fake news via Facebook and WhatsApp.

The survey stated that 96 per cent of the sample population received fake news via WhatsApp. (IANS)

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Facebook Offers Help To India On Fake News Traceability On WhatsApp

With India pressing for traceability of WhatsApp messages to check the spread of fake news, Nick Clegg, Facebook Vice President, Global Affairs and Communications, has offered alternative ways to help the country

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Over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy. Pixabay

With India pressing for traceability of WhatsApp messages to check the spread of fake news, Nick Clegg, Facebook Vice President, Global Affairs and Communications, has offered alternative ways to help the country, without any reference towards tracing the origin of the WhatsApp messages.

WhatsApp had categorically said in the past that the government’s demand to trace the origin of messages on its platform is not possible as it “undermines the privacy of the people”.

Clegg who was the UK’s former Deputy Prime Minister before joining Facebook, visited India last week and met several senior government officials, including IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and offered to assist law enforcement agencies in all possible ways like Artificial Intelligence-driven data analytics and access to “meta-data”.

“Facebook cares deeply about the safety of people in India and Nick’s meetings this week provided opportunities to discuss our commitment to supporting privacy and security in every app we provide and how we can continue to work productively with the government of India towards these shared goals,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

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When a message is sent from WhatsApp, the identity of the originator can also be revealed along with the message. Pixabay

Last December, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.

The proposed regulations require a company to “enable tracing out of originators of information on its platform as required by legally authorised government agencies”.

The end-to-end encryption feature in WhatsApp makes it difficult for law enforcement authorities to find out the culprit behind a misinformation campaign.

The mobile messaging platform with over 400 million users has already called the proposed changes “overbroad”.

“Attributing messages on WhatsApp would undermine the end-to-end encryption, and its private nature, leading to possibilities of being misused,” a company spokesperson had earlier said.

WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook has over 300 million users in India.

WhatsApp in February stressed that some of the proposed government regulations for social media companies operating in India are threatening the very existence of the app in its current form.

“Of the proposed regulations, the one which concerns us the most is the emphasis on traceability of messages,” Carl Woog, WhatsApp’s Head of Communications, had told IANS.

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Facebook has filed a petition to transfer the case looking at enforcing traceability on WhatsApp to the Supreme Court. It is currently sub judice in the Madras High Court.

Tamil Nadu, however, is aiming to get Facebook’s transfer petition dismissed by the Supreme Court.

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras recently stressed that the issue can be easily resolved without diluting end-to-end encryption and affecting the privacy of users.

“If WhatsApp says it is not technically possible to show the originator of the message, I can show that it is possible,” said V. Kamakoti.

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When a message is sent from WhatsApp, the identity of the originator can also be revealed along with the message.

So the message and the identity of the creator can be seen only by the recipient.

“When that recipient forwards the message, his/her identity can be revealed to the next recipient,” he said, adding that as per the court ruling, those who forward a harmful message can also be held responsible in certain cases. (IANS)