Local fact-checking organisation Africa Check, together with audio-production start-up Volume, has been awarded a $50 000 (R736 105.50) grant by the 2019 Fact Forward Innovation Fund of the International Fact-Checking Network for its What's Crap on WhatsApp? service.
The service was launched earlier this year and is aimed at debunking fake WhatsApp messages.
This is how it works: if you receive a dodgy WhatsApp or in any way doubt the authenticity of information that you received in a WhatsApp message, you can send it to Africa Check's dedicated WhatsApp number.
"If they receive a viral video or something they think might be a hoax, they can forward that to us on WhatsApp. Over the course of a month, we will have a look at what we get and then put together a two- to three-minute breakdown of what is true and what not," Kate Wilkinson, acting deputy chief editor at Africa Check, told News24 prior to the launch of the service in March.
This is done via a voice note on its dedicated WhatsApp number. The second voice note, or broadcast, is scheduled for Friday.
Wilkinson said she was excited about the grant.
"The Fact Forward Innovation Fund runs an annual competition where fact-checking organisations can apply with innovative fact-checking ideas, something that's going to change the game. We had just recently launched What's Crap on WhatsApp? , and we decided to apply and we've been lucky enough to be this year's winner," Wilkinson said on Wednesday.
From manual to automated
Wilkinson said the money will be used to build a dedicated and specific WhatsApp platform to enable Africa Check, with its partner Volume, to better engage with its subscribers.
"It will also help us to categorise, log and flag all the content that's being sent to us. Currently, we are doing everything manually. So we're hoping to use some of the money to build an automated process which will allow us to do this on a much greater scale."
Wilkinson said public reaction to the service has been phenomenal. "I think we've tapped into a great need for accurate information on WhatsApp. Facebook and Twitter are open social media platforms, which makes it much easier to call people out for sharing incorrect information, but WhatsApp is completely closed."
Wilkinson earlier told News24 that it's extremely hard to determine the extent of fake news and bogus messages shared on WhatsApp. "We don't actually know. WhatsApp is often described as 'dark social media' because we don't know what is being shared on WhatsApp groups and people like the platform because they know that they can communicate without anyone [other than the intended recipients] seeing what is being shared."
Since its launch, What's Crap on WhatsApp? has attracted much interest.
"We've already seen an enormous response. We are receiving pictures, videos and messages on a daily basis from people asking us to separate fact from fiction."
In its second broadcast on Friday, Africa Check will be debunking four viral WhatsApp messages that have been found to be "crap": a message stating that criminals are handing out key holders with tracking devices in them; a claim that South African prisoners get a "bonus" when they finish their sentence; a claim that you can die if you drink a mixture of milk and cough syrup; and a claim that actress Charlize Theron is a secret funder of the ANC.
To make use of the service, send your details to What's Crap on WhatsApp? on 082 709 3527, or visit http://bit.ly/WhatsCrap.