Popular digital communication platform WhatsApp has lately been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It has become one of the main channels for the spread of fake news in India. Due to encryption, it is impossible to tell where misinformation has originated and how far it has travelled. A new Indian digital media website, The Quint, is trying take on this menace with its own fact-checking initiative and with the help of its readers.
Debunking false news with readers
The Quint launched its fact-checking initiative, WebQoof, last year. It’s a newsroom-wide effort, with journalists producing informative articles and videos about spotting ‘fake news’ and working closely with regional and local media and a handful of fact-checking sites to debunk hoaxes and false claims.
The Quint’s readers are encouraged to submit for verification dubious stories they’ve come across on social media. A single such call to action prompted between 100 and 150 submissions. WebQoof is one of The Quint’s fastest growing segments in terms of readership.
“That’s really where the light at the end of the tunnel is for us, because everything you hear is that people are in their filter bubbles, and that they only want to read stories that confirm their biases,” said Ritu Kapur, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Quint, during the World News Media Congress that took place in Portugal last month.
“But clearly this onslaught of mails that have come to us for verification, and the fact that our fact-checking stories get such high consumption, is very reassuring because it sort of flies in the face of everything we’ve presumed on how people just want to believe fake stories,” Kapur said.
By involving readers in its fact-checking efforts, The Quint has gained access to hundreds of unverified claims on WhatsApp, allowing staffers to fact-check claims that otherwise might have flown under their radar.
Via its own WhatsApp channel, the outlet feeds many verified stories back onto the platform. “The challenge was how do we make the fact-checked content accessible, because false news is simple to consume. It travels very easily, whereas fact-checking and truth is more complicated,” Kapur said. “So you’ve got to make the verified news as exciting to read as the viral false news. We’ve been working on that, without in any way taking away from the fact-checking.”
The Quint uses the resource-intensive tactic of dispatching its own journalists to check hoaxes in-person whenever possible.
The next big challenge
Currently, The Quint is preparing for its next challenge: countering the expected spike in misinformation in the run-up to India’s 2019 general election.
“We plan to get more and more people, readers and viewers actively involved as ‘partners’,” Kapur shared. Additionally, The Quint is building out WebQoof on the Hindi site. It is also looking to partner with media organizations to further expand operations.
The story has inputs from the WAN-IFRA website.