This week, the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford released the annual Digital News Report, a survey of 37 countries and 74,000 participants. The report finds that respondents are increasingly using WhatsApp to consume news. Particularly in Malaysia, Brazil, and Turkey, individuals find that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption creates a safer space to seek out information on contentious topics.
At the same time, WhatsApp has also facilitated the spread of false rumors about the Catalan independence referendum, yellow fever in Brazil, kidnappings in India, and more. While the platform’s design maximizes security, it makes combating false news particularly challenging. Aware of the potential for harm, WhatsApp and Facebook launched a digital literacy program in advance of Kenya’s 2017 elections. Moreover, journalism organizations like Chequado in Argentina and La Silla Vacía in Colombia launched services that aim to fact-check viral messages.
WhatsApp highlights the need to create space for civil society organizations, technology platforms, and journalists to collaborate and communicate. (Psst- check out the upcoming Design 4 Democracy Coalition for more!)
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