The devastating consequences of fake news are apparent around the world, but in recent times India has felt them most keenly, with the spread of misinformation resulting in the deaths of 12 people in the last two months. WhatsApp, and its parent company Facebook, have taken a number of measures to stem the tide of fake news, from making short films to handing out grants to support research into the issue – now they’re appealing directly to their users.
This week, Facebook has taken out full-page adverts in a number of Indian newspapers imploring WhatsApp users to think carefully about the messages they receive, and offering 10 tips for spotting fake news. The advert encourages users to “question information that upsets you” and to “think twice before sharing it again.”
“Question information that upsets you”, says WhatsApp’s full-page advertisements. Clearly the solution to declining newspaper ad revenues in India will come from how we tackle our digital fake news crisis. pic.twitter.com/3h5XyJeMIr
— Anuj Srivas (@AnujSrivas) July 10, 2018
The advert also reveals Facebook’s plans to roll out a new feature that tells users whether a message they receive has been forwarded on from someone else. This follows testing back in January that displayed a notification if a message had been forwarded multiple times. “Double check the facts when you’re not sure who wrote the original message,” the accompanying text reads.
It’s not the first time Facebook has relied on newspaper adverts to reassure the general populous about its platform. It ran full-page adverts of apology after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and advisory adverts ahead of European elections, warning about the dangers of misinformation.
The most recent advert’s overarching message — like much of Facebook’s efforts in tackling fake news — essentially puts responsibility on the user to double-check sources. Of course, the very fact that Facebook is relying on old-school mediums such as print advertising to teach its users about its platform suggests “helpful tips” such as “just because a message is shared many times, does not make it true,” are trite and ineffectual. Many would argue the company needs to be doing far more than simply preaching the virtues of critical thinking through quasi-educational announcements in what is essentially a dying medium.