Are WhatsApp rumors inciting violence in India?

The Week in Fact-Checking is a newsletter about fact-checking and accountability journalism, from Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institute's Accountability Project. Sign up here.

WhatsApp scrutinized after attacks in India

In India, rumors on WhatsApp are reportedly having serious consequences outside the messaging app.

In the weeks leading up to local elections in Karnataka state in May, WhatsApp — a private, encrypted messaging app with more than 200 million users in India (its largest market) — had become a top source of political misinformation. The fakery got worse with rumors about child abductions, which reportedly led to the murder of three people in Tamil Nadu state.

And since then, the violence hasn’t stopped.

A hoax about alleged organ harvesters disguised as beggars helped inflame a mob of about 50 people in Madhya Pradesh state that beat up two innocent men in mid-June. Authorities in Tripura state shut off the internet for 48 hours last Friday after three people were killed following a WhatsApp rumor about child traffickers. Five more were killed in a mob in the Dhule district on Sunday, also after a rumor about child trafficking.

Rough estimates put the number of people killed since May at more than a dozen. But despite the violence, it’s still unclear to what extent WhatsApp rumors have motivated each incident. On Tuesday, the platform responded to a statement from the Indian government about the lynchings, saying it needs more support from law enforcement to limit the spread and impact of hoaxes.

Stay tuned for more reporting on this.

Virality
(Shutterstock)

This is bad

  • The “WalkAway” meme: This is what you get when “everything is viral and nothing matters” — including the truth.
  • Eyeroll please: Misinformation about a U.S. congresswoman was fact-checked by a fake CNN account.
  • Meet the man who tried to use fake news to elect Mexico’s next president.

This is how we do it

  • First Draft has launched a collaborative verification project with 24 Brazilian news organizations ahead of this fall’s election.
  • Next week, Daniel and Ren LaForme at Poynter will lead a free, one-hour webinar on the best digital tools to verify information online. Sign up here.
  • An experimental course on “Calling Bullshit” at the University of Washington is now official, and officially popular.

WeChat
(Shutterstock)

A closer look

  • Misinformation on WeChat, a messaging platform with about 1 million monthly active users, is a growing problem worldwide. Here’s how small groups of part-time debunkers are fighting it.
  • To save facts from extinction, Slate has a 4-step plan that everyone can follow.
  • Facebook is buying an AI company to help fight fake news.

Jane Elizabeth
(American Press Institute)

Signing off (soon)

We’re excited about Jane’s big job news: She will be joining The Raleigh News & Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun as managing editor in August! But we’re also sad, because that means she’ll stop co-authoring The Week in Fact-Checking. We’ll miss her witty contributions each week!

12 quick fact-checking links

  1. Fighting back: This guy’s offering a reward for information on who started false rumors about him on social media.
  2. ICFJ’s new ethics handbook includes information on misinformation.
  3. Factitious, a fact-checking game created by American University, gets some attention at this year’s “Games for Change” in New York.
  4. WAMU interviews the two students who dropped out of UC-Berkeley to work on their BotCheck.me project full-time.
  5. WAN-IFRA talks to the Quint about their work in fighting fake news in India, particularly on WhatsApp.A new report takes a look at attacks against the press over the past two years of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency — including how fake accounts and trolls have amplified anti-media narratives.
  6. No, the Capital Gazette shooter didn’t mutilate his fingertips to avoid identification, BuzzFeed News reported.
  7. Daniel’s guide to global anti-misinformation actions has been updated. New to the list: Belarus and India.
  8. Fact-checking project Doğruluk Payı went on BBC to talk about how misinformation affected elections in Turkey.
  9. Here’s a thoughtful thread on live fact-checking during TV interviews by “More or Less” host Tim Harford.
  10. Coming soon: A set of lesson plans for the misinformation era, put together by UNESCO (Disclosure: Alexios wrote a chapter).
  11. A cautionary tale: How the Indianapolis Star was used to spread misinformation through Twitter.
  12. Thwink.org is working on a research project that provides evaluations of to what extent different politicians tell the truth about certain topics.

Until next week,

DanielJane, and Alexios

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