WhatsApp Pilots ‘Search the Web’ Tool for Fact-Checking Forwarded Messages

Image: WhatsApp
Image: WhatsApp

WhatsApp is piloting a new feature meant to support fact-checking of in-app messages by searching their contents on the web, the company announced this week.

Beginning Monday, the Facebook-owned messaging app began testing a tool that will stamp a magnifying glass next to forwarded messages, which also bear the previously introduced double arrow indicator. By clicking on the magnifying glass icon, users within a thread will be asked whether they want to search on Google for the message’s contents and find news and information related to that topic. According to a blog post on the tool, the “feature works by allowing users to upload the message via their browser without WhatsApp ever seeing the message itself.”

The idea is to allow users a quick and easy way to get information about messages that are being heavily shared. The double-arrow forwarding icon appears on messages that have been shared through a series of five or more chats. While these types of messages can only be shared to a single chat at once — which the company says is supposed to help curb viral misinformation — that’s not really enough of a safeguard against the message being shared widely.

Social media is pretty much a garbage chute of misinformation no matter where you go — look no further than your own Facebook feed to behold the slow erosion of critical thought. But this issue is particularly bad on WhatsApp, whose forwarding functionality has been abused for misinformation and propaganda campaigns. This new tool still places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of its users to suss out bad information on their own, but it does make doing so a slightly easier process.

WhatsApp says its “search the web” tool is currently being piloted for WhatsApp’s web as well as iOS and Android apps in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, the UK, and the U.S.