WhatsApp is developing an image search tool to spot fake news

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 14 Mar 2019

There's no way to secretly leave a WhatsApp group – the other members will always get a notification that you've turned your back on them. — dpa

WhatsApp is developing a feature that allows users to Google an image, from within the chat app, to help verify if the image is true or fake news.

WhatsApp BetaInfo says with the new feature, users can click on an image in their chats and get a new option, Search Image, in addition to the usual forward image or reply message options.

When users select Search Image, WhatsApp will alert them that it will be uploaded to Google.

"This is very important because WhatsApp uses official Google APIs to find similar or equal images on the Web. After uploading the image to Google, WhatsApp will open the browser to show the results," it says. 

It notes that this feature will be useful in helping users figure out if news is fake, as the Google search will give context to the image and possibly link to alerts if it's been mentioned in fake news. 

However, there is no timeline on when the Search Image function will go live. 

WhatsApp BetaInfo says not all Beta users are getting it as of the version 2.19.73. update, thus it might still be under development to sort out bugs.

WhatsApp, which has more than 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concern that the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context, and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach.

The app's end-to-end encryption means users have privacy to send texts, photos and video but also puts it out of reach of verification by independent fact checkers or the platform itself.

The messaging service provides tips to help prevent the spread of rumors and fake news, with advice like how to spot if a message is forwarded, checking the authenticity of photos and media and warning that fake news often goes viral and to help not spread it further. 

"If you see something that's fake, tell the person that sent it to you and ask them to verify information before they share it. Don't share a message because someone tells you to do so. If a group or a contact is constantly sending fake news, report them. To learn how to report a contact or a group, please read this article," it says, adding that users should contact local law enforcement if they think people could be in danger. 

WhatsApp in January cut the number of times a user can forward a message down to five, in a bid to fight fake news. Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups. 

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