At the beginning of lockdown, fears surrounding the deadly pandemic were exasperated by a surge of fake news and scaremongering chain messages on social media, namely WhatsApp. The instant messaging app was flooded with forwarded messages with misinformation like claims about the government spraying down areas with anti-bacterial substances – “STAY IN DOORS,” they read.
Earlier in the year, WhatsApp placed a limit on the number of times a forwarded message – which were easily identifiable with an icon depicting two arrows – could be sent, in order to maintain the private nature of the app, which apparently cut the amount of viral messages by 70%. Although, as The Verge points out, it is impossible to know how many of these messages contained misinformation.
Now, WhatsApp is piloting a new feature called Search the Web, which will allow users to quickly search the facts behind any viral messages. In an online statement, the company announced the introduction of “a simple way to double check these messages by tapping a magnifying glass button in the chat”.
The added: “Providing a simple way to search messages that have been forwarded many times may help people find news results or other sources of information about content they have received”.
The new feature is being rolled out today in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, UK, and US for those on the latest versions of WhatsApp for Android, iOS and WhatsApp Web.
Facebook, who owns the app, have been trying to combat the spread of misinformation on their platforms throughout the pandemic. However, due the service’s end-to-end encryption, Facebook was not able to read any messages sent through the app, making it difficult to police harmful content. This feature allows users to do it themselves.