At the beginning of the pandemic, WhatsApp put a severe limit on the forwarding of viral messages: can't be bulk forwarded, chat to chat only. They did it so that the platform would continue to be, they said, "a place for personal conversation" and not for hoaxes. And the truth is that the measure meant that the spread of "highly forwarded" messages decreased by 70%, which from WhatsApp was rated very positively.
Now, a report on disinformation on WhatsApp made by Damn.es has concluded that 78.72% of the alerts investigated for their chatbot it was confirmed that they pointed to a hoax or misinformation.
Messages forwarded five or more times on WhatsApp are three times more likely to be identified as possible misinformation
Alerts sent by users associated with the FF attribute, which identifies messages forwarded five or more times and is accompanied by a double arrow in conversations, are three times more likely to be identified as possible misinformation by the professionals of this non-profit medium.
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Viral messages are "strongly related" to misinformation
Damn.es has been around since July 2020, at which time they launched their chatbot intended to receive messages that could potentially be hoaxes, collecting data on disinformation in an automated way. Before, they carried out this work manually. This has allowed them, among other actions, to monitor these messages, measure their virality and their evolution over time.
This work has been added, since last March, the possibility of distinguishing between normal messages and those marked by the attribute Frequently Forwarded that indicate its virality and it causes users to not be able to forward them to several conversations at the same time, but from chat to chat to hinder their massive dissemination and tackle the problems that may arise from it.
"There are also features that suggest that these types of alerts can signal the appearance of coordinated disinformation campaigns"
Thanks to this, the academic research team of the medium has carried out a first analysis of the meaning and relevance of this attribute, analyzing the patterns of its appearance during the first month in which they could use it (from March 2021 to April 2021). and have found indications that "is strongly related to misinformation".
Beyond the fact that about 80% of the alerts analyzed were hoaxes, from Damn.es have calculated that 74% of the alerts with FF received were linked to an investigation by their verification team and, as we said before, that alerts associated with viral messages are three times more likely to be identified as possible misinformation.
The FF attribute, although it appears from its fifth share, they assure that it "indicates high rates of virality"
"In the patterns of appearance of alerts with FF we observe that they appear associated with hoaxes with a very high potential impact, either because they are likely to become very viral or because they are old hoaxes that already had a significant impact in the past and are back in circulation, "they explain." There are also traits that suggest that this type of alerts can signal the emergence of coordinated disinformation campaigns. "
Although the attribute appears from its share number five, from Damn.es they assure that "indicates high rates of virality" and they give as an example a hoax about the former vice president of the Spanish Government, Pablo Iglesias. "The curve of total notices that reached our WhatsApp compared to the notices associated with the FF attribute is coincident and tells us that several FF notices in a single day indicate high virality," they explain.