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Swachh Digital India: Fake News Has a Real Impact on Our Lives 

Fake News on WhatsApp is difficult to track. What impact does it have on our lives? Read on for details.

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“It was the rush to cover the news that made them forget about fact-checking”, fake news has a huge impact on our lives, especially with our digitally connected lives.
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WhatsApp, which helps its users send messages, make audio and video calls, share location, pictures and videos, has a significant user base in India.

With end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp says it’s not possible for the third party to read messages exchanged between two people.

“When end-to-end encrypted, your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, status updates and calls are secured from falling into the wrong hands,” the company says on its page.

WhatsApp says it’s not possible for the third party to read messages exchanged between two people.
WhatsApp says it’s not possible for the third party to read messages exchanged between two people.
(Photo Courtesy: Pixabay)
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What’s Up With WhatsApp?

“WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you are communicating with can read what is sent and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp can.”

“Your messages are secured with a lock and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read your message. For added protection, every message you send has a unique lock and key.”

Now consider a situation where a fake, disturbing video or a message goes viral?

Is it possible to track its source – who sent it first on the app?

A Facebook spokesperson (Facebook owns WhatsApp) refused to comment.

Many experts agree that tracing the origin of a message introduced on WhatsApp is not possible.

The company says the data is not saved on its servers, but on the instrument.

Many experts agree that tracing the origin of a message introduced on WhatsApp is not possible.
Many experts agree that tracing the origin of a message introduced on WhatsApp is not possible.
(Photo: iStock)
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The Legal Purview

Ethical hacker Rizwan Shaikh also agrees, but he adds that law enforcement agencies can track the data by going backwards and checking the message receiver’s handset, but it’s not feasible every time due to the paucity of resources.

“A message on WhatsApp could go viral within a few hours. If the origin of a message has to be tracked, steps need to be taken in the first few hours. Otherwise it becomes impossible,” says Rizwan.

Messages on the app have almost no barriers that could impede its spread. Pictures or moving images could be translated into multiple languages making their reach extremely powerful.

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The Impact

Sample this story which illustrates how confusing a situation can become.

In 2015, reports of the crash of an Indian Air Force plane hit the headlines. Police searched a 10-km forest area near Chitrakoot for a day before realising that it was a fake report.

Then Chitrakoot SP Pawan Kumar said it all started with an image circulated via WhatsApp.

According to local journalist Vivek Agarwal, it was the rush to cover the news that made them forget about fact-checking.

According to Kumar, the alleged image appeared to have travelled from Satna in Madhya Pradesh.

However, another journalist who reported about the crash, says the image came as a forward from Rajasthan.

How do you track the origin of a suspicious picture?
How do you track the origin of a suspicious picture?
(Photo: iStock)
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The Big Question

Now, how do you track the origin of the picture in such a situation?

Sunil Abraham of Centre for Internet and Society has a few questions for WhatsApp.

He says end-to-end encryption works best between two parties. But what happens in a WhatsApp group?

“End-to-end encryption works best between two parties. In a group, the message is sent to multiple parties. I cannot believe that when a message is sent to a 100-member group, the message is encrypted 100 different times on the phone and then sent to each recipient. I don’t think this is how the technology works.”

He believes WhatsApp should have an answer to this puzzle.

Meanwhile, NDTV has reported that WhatsApp told the Supreme Court earlier this month that it will help block sexually-offensive content from being shared on social media.

How it would do that, considering the app is end-to-end encrypted, is not clear.

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(This article is part of a series done in co-production between The Quint and BBC Hindi called Swachh Digital India. Also read this article in Hindi on BBC Hindi here. Read more articles from Swachh Digital India here.)

(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL atbol@thequint.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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