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Will Disappearing Messages Feature Endanger WhatsApp’s Fight Against Fake News?

Will Disappearing Messages Feature Endanger WhatsApp’s Fight Against Fake News?

The feature, now termed Delete Message, will be initially available for group chats

The 'Delete Message' feature will come with a toggle on/off button

The feature is aligning with WhatsApp’s dark mode too

With a user base of over 400 Mn, India is the biggest market for Facebook-owned chat messaging application WhatsApp. As a result, the company has been focusing on bringing several India-first features time and again. Further, WhatsApp had even been proactive in bringing digital payments solution, enabling read receipts to everything else.

One of the latest updates in the works by WhatsApp is disappearing messages. Even though it has not been identified if this is a feature for India or the world, a report by WABetaInfo, on November 25, showed that WhatsApp is gradually rolling out the much-awaited self-destructing message feature for its Android Beta version.

The report added that the company is still working on this update to provide a more stable and bug-free experience to its users before releasing the feature. According to the blog, the feature, now termed as Delete Message, will be initially available for group chats and can be enabled by the group’s administrators.

Will Disappearing Messages Feature Endanger WhatsApp’s Fight Against Fake News?

The report added that the ‘Delete Message’ feature will come with a toggle on/off button and users can choose a particular time interval for the messages to automatically disappear. There are five options for time intervals to choose from – 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month and 1 year.

It further said that the feature is aligning with WhatsApp’s dark mode too.

It is to be noted that WhatsApp is not the first social media platform trying disappearing messages. Snapchat already does this. However, WhatsApp is the controversial product, which is already under fire for leading to the spread of fake news etc, and hence, making a message disappear can create further problems for the company.

For the uninitiated, the concerns first arose when misinformation and rumours led to a spate of lynchings in 2018. Known as unfortunate killings, the rage among people took the lives of people across Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, and West Bengal. Since then, the company has been under the line of fire and even the payments service had been put on hold.

Further, at the time of the Indian general election 2019, WhatsApp started blocking or disabling chats for those mobile numbers which were spreading fake news and objectionable election-related content flagged by the Election Commission. Before the elections, WhatsApp had also introduced a telephonic tip line for its users to report misleading content and fake news. WhatsApp created a system where users can forward offensive messages to an automated account.

Further, a research report in October 2019 said that WhatsApp was extensively abused to spread rumours and create misleading campaigns during recent elections in Brazil and India. The research emphasised that the closed nature of the app, in addition to the ease of transferring multimedia and sharing information to big groups make WhatsApp unique among other platforms.

The researchers found that the current efforts deployed by WhatsApp can offer significant delays on the information spread, but they are ineffective in blocking the propagation of misinformation campaigns through public groups when the content is of high viral nature.

Further, the company has been extensively involved in court cases for its encryption feature, which the government has been demanding to be removed. But if combined with a feature that lets messages disappear, the context of WhatsApp even trying to control fake news loses the ground.

We have reached out to WhatsApp to understand the need of this feature, and how does it impact its attempt to fight fake news. The story will be updated as and when the company responds.