“Do not accept the new WhatsApp policy,” said one of the messages circulating on the platform. “After you do so, your WhatsApp account will be linked to your Facebook account and Zuckerberg can see all of your chats.”
“Over the next few months, WhatsApp will roll out a new version of your chats-based adverts,” said another. “Do not accept the new policy!”
Thousands of similar messages went viral on WhatsApp, Facebook-owned instant messaging app, over the next days. Introduced by celebrities like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and accuser Edward Snowden, millions rush to download WhatsApp alternatives like Signal and Telegram.
There’s just one problem: From the 4,000-word policy, it’s clear that the new changes only apply if people use WhatsApp to chat with businesses rather than private chats with friends and family. family.
No, the new terms won’t allow Facebook to read your WhatsApp chats, the company explained to anyone asking. Top CEO posted long subject on Twitter and posted interview to major publications in India, the company’s largest market. WhatsApp spent millions of dollars to buy front page ads in major newspapers and graphics released expose rumors on its website with a large “Share to WhatsApp” button, in the hope of bringing some truth into the misinformation stream through its platform. The company also encourages Facebook employees to share these infographics, according to Workplace internal bulletin board posts.
“There has been a lot of misinformation and confusion so we are working to provide accurate information on how WhatsApp protects people’s personal chats,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. . “We are using our Status feature to communicate directly with people in WhatsApp, as well as posting accurate information on our social networks and websites in dozens of languages. Of course, they are. I also provide these resources to the people who work at our company so they can answer questions directly to friends and family if they wish. “
None of it works.
For years, rumors and hoaxes spread through WhatsApp spurred a crisis of misinformation In some of the world’s most densely populated countries like Brazil and India, where the app is the primary way by which most people talk. Now that crisis has come to the company itself.
“The belief in the foundations is [at a] rock bottom, ”Claire Wardle, co-founder and director of First Draft, a nonprofit that studies misinformation, told BuzzFeed News. “We have for many years people are increasingly concerned about the power of technology companies, especially perceptions of the amount of data they are collecting about us. So when privacy policies are changed, people care enough about what it means.
Wardle said people were concerned that WhatsApp would connect their behavior on the app with data from their Facebook accounts.
Pratik Sinha, founder of Alt News, a fact-checking platform in India, said: “Facebook and WhatsApp have a huge deficit of trust. “Once you have that, any kind of misinformation that is supposedly yours will be consumed with ease.”
Both Sinha and Wardle add, which doesn’t help is ordinary people’s ignorance about how technology and privacy work. “Confusion is where misinformation thrives, so people have seen policy changes, come to conclusions, and it’s not surprising that many people believe rumors,” Wardle said.
These types of misinformation that have thrived on WhatsApp for years often lead to harm. In 2013, a video went viral in Muzaffarnagar, a city in northern India, reportedly showing two young men holding knives, inciting riots between Hindu and Muslim communities, leaving dozens of people. die. A police investigation found that the video is over two years old and was not even shot in India. In Brazil, fake news flooding the platform and used to support far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who won the country’s 2018 presidential election.
But the company didn’t take its misinformation problem seriously until 2018, when rumors of kidnappers swept through the platform leading to an series of violent lynchings all over India. In a statement issued at the time, India’s IT ministry warning WhatsApp on legal action and said the company would “be seen as an abuser” if it fails to solve the problem, putting WhatsApp in crisis mode. It brought top executives from Menlo Park, California, the company’s headquarters to New Delhi to meet with government officials and journalists, and ran media awareness campaigns. false news.
It also integrates new features into the app for the first time against misinformation, such as label forwarded messages and limit the number of people or groups to which a piece of content can be forwarded in order to slow the content down. In August of last year, it also started allows people in certain countries to upload message content to Google to verify if forwarding is fake. This feature is not yet available for WhatsApp users in India.
Since then, the company still working on a tool that lets users search for images they get in-app with a single tap in 2019, a move that will make it easier for people to verify authenticity. But almost two years later, there was no sign of this feature, even though a text version was available in more than a dozen countries, to date, including India.
“We’re still working on the search engine feature,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
This week, the company placed a Status message, the equivalent of a WhatsApp Facebook story, at the top of the Everyone’s Status section. Tapping on Status revealed a series of messages from the company overturning the rumors.
“WhatsApp doesn’t share your contacts with Facebook,” said the first. The other two Status updates made it clear that WhatsApp cannot see everyone’s location and cannot read or listen to encrypted private chats. “We are committed to protecting your privacy,” said the final statement.
On Thursday, employees had questions for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the weekly Q&A session, according to internal communications reported by BuzzFeed News. Some people want to know if the shifting to Signal and Telegram on the rise will affect WhatsApp usage and growth metrics. Others want the CEO to resolve whether Facebook is using any of the metadata from WhatsApp to serve ads.
“Public outrage at WhatsApp PrivPolicy’s changes,” commented another. “The distrust of FB is so high, we should be more careful about this.”
Zuckerberg responded by saying that he doesn’t think the company has handled the changes well.
“The short answer is no, I don’t think we handled this as well as we should,” he said. “And I think the team has been involved in everything— and there are some lessons to make sure we do a better job in the future, not just on WhatsApp TOS. But you know, we have other TOS updates for different apps and services. And we need to make sure we do better than those two. So that way, we minimize the amount of misinformation generated – and the amount – and minimize the amount of confusion created. “
Ryan Mac contributed to the report.