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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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