WhatsApp today announced another protection for users in an effort to clamp down on the spread of fake news and misinformation. Through a brand-new feature, users can regulate who has permission to add them to groups. The company says this will “support to maximum abuse” and keep people’s phone numbers independent. Related to this, the app will also introduce an invite system for those who enable the extra protections, allowing users to vet any incoming faction invites before deciding to join.
The privacy setting arrives only a day after the Facebook-owned messaging app launched a fact-checking tipline in India, ahead of elections in the country.
Like other social platforms, WhatsApp has played a role in the spread of fake news. In Brazil, for instance, the platform was flooded with falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and other misleading propaganda.
This sort of disinformation doesn’t always arrive through family and friends, but can also come in the form of faction chats – in some cases, chats that users were added to against their will.
This is particularly true in one of WhatsApp’s biggest markets, India.
As The WSJ recently reported, India’s political parties often use the app to blast messages to groups organized by caste, income stage and religion. The number of hoaxes have skyrocketed as WhatsApp parent Facebook clamped down on fake news. Reports of hoaxes that last year numbered in the dozens per day, having since grown to hundreds per day. And WhatsApp is now removing around 2 million suspicious accounts globally per month, the report said.
Putting users in regulate of how they’re added to groups could support some, but only if users are inspired to dig into the settings and make the change for themselves.
Ideally, this stage of protection should be enabled as the default – not an optional decision.
To enable the brand-new protection, users can go to Settings then touch Account > Privacy > Groups then select one of the three options regarding who can add you to a faction text: “Nobody,” “My Contacts,” or “Everybody.” “Nobody” means you’ll have to approve joining every faction to which you’re invited, WhatsApp says, and “My Contacts” means only users you already know can add you to groups.
In the event that you change the setting to either “Nobody” or “My Contacts,” people inviting you to groups will be instead prompted to send an independent invite through a solo chat. That route, you still have the option of joining a faction even if the person inviting you isn’t one of your orderly WhatsApp contacts. However, the invite will expire in 3 days if you don’t accept.
This is only one of several changes to WhatsApp made in recent months focused on reducing the spread of misinformation and fake news. The company last summer began to maximum message forwarding, and marked forwarded messages with a label. It was also spotted testing a brand-new spam message warning system.
WhatsApp says the brand-new settings spin out to some users today, and will approach the rest of WhatsApp’s audience in the weeks ahead. The most recent model of the app will be required.