Africa: Social Media Apps Tackling Fake News

Left: Opening WhatsApp. Right: An example of a chain message sent on WhatsApp debunked using a fact-checking site like Snopes.com

In a world where fake news has resulted in violence, government toppling and mass hysteria, the importance of spotting and flagging fake or inflammatory news is at an all-time high.

A recent MIT study showed that fake news was 70% more likely to be tweeted. In addition, in the recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey, 59% of people said they were uncertain if any given story was 'true' or not.

Bloomberg reported late last year that Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have all pledged to fight the spread of "fake news" online in Europe, largely to prevent it from blighting political elections in the region. The ad-hoc alliance presented a code of conduct to the European Commission, the bloc's executive body.

Outside of these efforts, web platforms and social media firms are exploring ways to curtail misinformation online before they have to face possible regulation. Some of these measures include:

WhatsApp forward limit

WhatsApp, which has around 1.5 billion users, is arguably at the top of the list of apps with the highest amount of fake news in circulation. Fake news, altered audio files, photographs and videos can be shared infinitely without being traced back to their sources, making it impossible to measure their reach or hold the sources accountable.

The messaging service, owned by Facebook Inc., is hoping to fight "misinformation and rumours" first by labelling forwards and now limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to a maximum of five people. This is a great improvement from before, when a WhatsApp user could forward a message to up to 20 individuals or several groups.

"We're imposing a limit of five messages all over the world," Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said at an event in the Indonesian capital.

True Caller's messaging app

Caller identification app True Caller, which has an estimated 50 million African users, has joined the instant messaging fray by launching True Caller Chat. The messaging platform, true to the form of the identification app, is aimed at making communication safer. The IM platform will allow users to report dodgy or misleading links, thus ensuring that these are not circulated unchecked by users.

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"As a one-stop communication platform, our IM service will help our users connect and also collaborate to combat the issue of spam. We're confident that this foundation stone will help build a strong spam-free community," Zakaria Hersi, True Caller director of partnerships for sub Saharan Africa, said in a press statement.

The app has released statistics indicating that True Caller is blocking and filtering out more than 4.4 million calls and 14 million spam SMSs on a monthly basis in Kenya alone.

Google launches its Google News initiative

Google has declared that it plans to spend US$ 300 million over the next three years to improve both the accuracy and quality of news appearing on its platforms. Google is starting off by using Alphabet Inc's artificial intelligence updates to power its Google News initiative.

"Access to reliable, quality information should be the right of anybody, wherever they live," says Alison Gow, digital editor in chief at Trinity Mirror, in a video released by Google on its news initiative.

Elaborating further on the need for reliable information, especially in the wake of a crisis, Richard Gringas, Google's vice president of news, wrote on a company blog post, "Bad actors are publishing content on forums and social media with the intent to mislead and capture people's attention as they rush to find trusted information online. To reduce the visibility of this type of content during crisis or breaking news events, we've improved our systems to put more emphasis on authoritative results over factors like freshness or relevancy."

Aside from the app, Google News will also include a growing set of solutions for the newsroom, including Google-powered search, context and voice translation and transcription tools. Richard Gringas went on to write that the overarching goal is to "enable new models for sustainable journalism, elevate quality journalism and ensure technology allows journalists to do their job better than ever."

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