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WhatsApp playing ‘stealth role’ in 2020 election spreading fake news to Indian-Americans

Namita Singh
·2-min read
Mobile messaging company WhatsApp is to be purchased by the social media giant Facebook in a $19 billion (£11 billion) deal (AP)
Mobile messaging company WhatsApp is to be purchased by the social media giant Facebook in a $19 billion (£11 billion) deal (AP)

Messages circulating on encrypted messaging service WhatsApp are playing a ‘stealth role’ in spreading fake news to Indian-Americans, it has been claimed.

Arun Bantval, a tech entrepreneur in New Jersey is one of the top fake news watchdogs for the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his Indian-American running mate Kamala Harris.

Mr Bantval has a five-member rapid response team and focuses on South Asian voters, and he’s created about 50 graphics and text messages in the past three months as a rebuttal to the concerning messages floating on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

The exchanges shared on WhatsApp are encrypted and therefore, cannot be accessed by third-party, making it more difficult for fact-checkers to respond to the misleading claims circulated there.

Mr Bantval’s team, along with similar non-partisan groups, are trying to defeat the misleading news on the platform by joining big WhatsApp group and asking the community leaders to flag the suspected item, found a Reuters report.

South Asian voters, mostly Indian American voters, will play a pivotal role in swing states of Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania

In fact, according to a report by Carnegie Endowment, about 72 per cent of voters intend to back the Democratic candidate. But the non-partisan groups fear that misinformation campaign might affect the turnout and support for the former vice-president Biden.

In an effort to curb misinformation, WhatsApp launched a new chatbot in May this year. Users could message the chatbot to access fact checks by internationally recognised organizations. However, Reuters found that the system generated no results on the messages that were sent to the South Asian Voters.

The misleading messages, don’t seem to harm only the former vice-president’s campaign. An investigation by the wire service found that the incumbent, Donald Trump, was also targeted through misleading messages on the app over his racial justice policies and that of his extramarital affairs.

A recent report published in the Sunday Sentinel found that not just South Asians but Latino voters were also being hit with a wave of Spanish-language misinformation on the messaging app. These ranged from unproven voter fraud allegations to “Deep State” plots against Donald Trump, to conspiracy theories related to the election and its candidates across social media, messaging apps, the radio and YouTube.

Additional reporting by agencies