New WhatsApp feature helps quickly check facts about COVID-19 treatment

The company announced that WhatsApp is rolling out a new feature that allows users to quickly find the content of viral messages to check for misinformation. Starting today, a magnifying glass icon will start appearing next to messages that have been forwarded through a chain of five or more people. Clicking on it searches the internet for the content of the message. The idea behind the new technology is that it should expose any general conspiracy theories or misinformation contained in the message.

In a screenshot of a feature released by WhatsApp, a user is using an example of a viral message claiming that “drinking fresh, boiled garlic water will cure COVID-19.” When you search the Internet, there are three websites that check this “fact” and flag the claim as false. Back in March, CNN reported that medical misinformation was becoming a problem at Facebook’s messaging service.

Facebook’s attempts to control false information on WhatsApp are complicated by the service’s end-to-end encryption, which prevents it from seeing the content of any messages sent to the service. With a new search feature, WhatsApp gives users the ability to self-check factual information rather than proactively scanning messages for common conspiracy theories. WhatsApp says that any message a user chooses to search for is sent directly to their browser, “so WhatsApp will never see the message itself”.

This is just one of the latest measures introduced by WhatsApp to stop the spread of misinformation on its platform. Back in April, new restrictions on the forwarding of viral messages were introduced. Once the changes are made, virus messages can only be sent to one more person, up from the previous limit of five. WhatsApp later stated that the measure reduced the spread of viral messages by 70%, although it is impossible to know exactly how many of those messages contained misinformation.

The new search feature is now available on iOS, Android, and the web in Brazil, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.