WhatsApp's CheckPoint tipline isn't a tool for fighting fake news during Indian elections, it's a research project

The tipline is primarily designed to help PROTO and Facebook’s research teams crowdsource data.

When Facebook announced CheckPoint, a fake news tipline for India, users were under the impression that this was a helpline of sorts that they could use to verify the authenticity of any “news” that they’d come across.

While Facebook did clearly state that tipline was a research project launched by PROTO — a startup based in India — that Facebook is collaborating on, initial reports did indicate that users should expect a response to tips submitted on the tipline number (+91-9643-000-888).

The number is tied to a WhatsApp Business account and a user only needs to submit or forward a message to the number. Those who submit will be asked if they want the item verified. The understanding was that the user would then receive a response within 24-hrs stating whether the submitted “fact” was true, false, disputed or out of scope. Users would also be given links or other information to back up the report.

 WhatsApps CheckPoint tipline isnt a tool for fighting fake news during Indian elections, its a research project

The unchecked spread of fake news on WhatsApp has resulted in several mob lynchings in India.

“If it is a known rumour, the user will get a quick response. If it is a new rumour, it will take some time for the verification to be processed, if need be,” a WhatsApp spokesperson was originally quoted as saying.

Today, however, following an investigation by Buzzfeed news, where it was revealed that responses to tips weren’t forthcoming, WhatsApp and PROTO appear to have changed their tune.

In an FAQ posted on PROTO’s website, it’s now clearly stated that the tipline is NOT a helpline and that users should NOT expect a response to their queries.

“The Checkpoint tipline is primarily used to gather data for research and not a helpline that will be able to provide a response to every user.”

The tipline is primarily designed to help PROTO and Facebook’s research teams crowdsource data on the kind of news being spread during the upcoming Indian elections. Facebook and PROTO will then use this data to determine how to go ahead and deal with misinformation in the future. At the moment, there is no plan other than the gathering of data. Facebook needs this data to be submitted because of WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption, which means that, if Facebook is to be believed, no third-party has access to private messages, not even Facebook.

PROTO’s FAQ reads “This project is the first of its kind in India and, for now, our goal is to understand the spread of misinformation during the election. We have not made any decisions about what happens after.”

Judging by the FAQ, it’s apparent that this WhatsApp tipline will have little to no effect on this year’s elections. The more relevant question right now is whether we want to feed yet more data to a company as consistently irresponsible and deceitful as Facebook.

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