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WhatsApp-funded study on fake news kicks off in four states; London to drive WhatsApp Pay globally

A research project funded by WhatsApp on how fake news affects political behaviour and caste relations is underway in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the Economic Times reports. Titled ‘Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour, and Good Governance’, the project is being conducted by Robert A Johns and Sayan Banerjee from the University of Essex, and Srinjoy Bose from the University of New South Wales. It involves 5,000 voters in the four states. The project is one of 20 around the world that the Facebook-owned messaging platform said it would fund last November, after it was accused of being a catalyst for the spread of fake news. Seven of these involve India (see the other six below). WhatsApp said it would put $50,000 into each project, for a total of $1 million.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports (paywall) that Facebook has chosen London as its base for the global roll-out of WhatsApp pay, before it launches the digital payments service in India. The company has told its engineers to recruit more than 100 people in London, which was chosen because it attracts a multicultural workforce from countries where WhatsApp is widely used, such as India, the report says. Earlier this month, WhatsApp told the Supreme Court of India that its payments service in the country was in trial mode and would launch fully only after compliance with the RBI’s norms, which require companies to store all payments-related data in India. WhatsApp said it was likely to complete the trial – which involves a million users and kicked off last February – by July. The court listed the matter for July, taking note of WhatsApp’s assurance.

Other research that WhatsApp is funding in India

WhatsApp had issued a call for research proposals last July and received papers from more than 600 research teams around the world, which it whittled down to 20. Here are the six other proposals involving India that WhatsApp decided to fund:

WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India
Shakuntala Banaji, PhD, London School of Economics and Political Science; Anushi Agrawal, Maraa; Nihal Passanha, Maraa; Ramnath Bhat, MSc, London School of Economics and Political Science
This research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and imagine solutions to the spate of ‘WhatsApp lynchings’ that occurred in 2018. This will be conducted through a literature review, a survey and an analysis of WhatsApp-based misinformation, focus groups and interviews with ordinary recipients of and targets of WhatsApp-based misinformation in four large Indian states, and expert interviews with key technological and sociopolitical stakeholders in India.

Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?
S Shyam Sundar, PhD, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) and P N Vasanti, Center for Media Studies, New Delhi
This study examines the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation by comparing Indian WhatsApp user reactions to three fake news stories, each prepared in either text-only, audio-only and video formats. The psychological differences in information processing across these three modalities when consuming fake news on WhatsApp will be examined.

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Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies
Vineet Kumar, Cyber Peace Foundation (Principal Investigator); Amrita Choudhary, CCAOI; Anand Raje, Cyber Peace Foundation
This mixed methods study will examine how vulnerability to fake news is affected by socioeconomic, demographic, or geographical factors, and explore the patterns in forwarding particular types of information across nine states in India (Assam, Delhi, Haryana Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa and Telengana).

Game-based interventions against the spread of misinformation
Sander van der Linden, PhD, University of Cambridge; Jon Roozenbeek, University of Cambridge; Melisa Basol, University of Cambridge; Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation
This research will adapt game-based interventions to the WhatsApp context that aim to “vaccinate” people against fake news by preemptively exposing individuals to the main techniques used in the production of misinformation. The effectiveness of this approach will be tested running 4 studies (a field experiment, two online survey experiments, and an in-game survey) in the UK, the Netherlands, and India.

Social media and everyday life in India
Philippa Williams, PhD, Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator); Lipika Kamra, DPhil, O P Jindal Global University
This study will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks
Santosh Vijaykumar, PhD, Northumbria University; Arun Nair, Health Systems Research India Initiative; Claudia Pagliari, PhD, University of Edinburgh; Venkat Chilukuri, PhD, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology; Yan Jin, PhD, University of Georgia
This study aims to identify the nature of, and find potential solutions to the kinds of vulnerabilities that misinformation imposes on older adults during infectious disease outbreaks with a demographic that is shown to be especially vulnerable to this problem. Situated in Bangalore, India, the study will comprise of two phases: formative research that will use automated social media analytics of news coverage to identify key themes of misinformation that spread during previous infectious disease outbreaks in India, and a factorial survey experiment to test how older adults and their children respond to different levels of misinformation presented in different formats.

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