WhatsApp news for Native Americans plays stealth role in U.S. election

WhatsApp said its role in US politics is small (representative)


New Jersey tech entrepreneur Arun Bantwal is the WhatsApp messaging service’s main watchdog about US presidential candidate Democrat Joe Biden and his Indo-American partner Kamala Harris.

Messages on WhatsApp, owned by Facebook Inc., are confidential and cannot be viewed by intermediaries who mislead police with memes, allegations and other content on the social media giant’s flagship platform. . Two billion users can chat with individuals and groups of up to 256 people on the free WhatsApp app.

Bantwal, 56, who chairs the five-member rapid response team of the Biden campaign focused on South Asian voters, has tracked dozens of related posts of unknown origin and produced nearly 50 rebuttal graphics and texts in the past three months.

His team and similar people from non-partisan groups are trying to fill the WhatsApp moderation void by joining large WhatsApp groups and asking community leaders to report the issue.

Fighting fake news on social media such as Facebook and Twitter has become standard campaign practice. But apps like secret messages like WhatsApp have flown under the radar despite serving as an important political platform among middle-aged Indians, Latinxes and other immigrant groups.

South Asian voters, mostly American Indian, will play a key role in the Nov. 3 contest in swing states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where results will be close and will predict national results, researchers and advocacy groups for the non-partisan vote have said. East.

According to the Carnegie Endowment’s September survey, about 72% of registered Indo-American voters plan to fire Biden. But Biden’s South Asian supporters and non-allied activists fear disinformation on WhatsApp will affect voting and support.

“There is a lot of misinformation for an already confusing process,” said Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of the non-partisan group of Asian Americans in North Carolina. “And this year is different for everyone because we rely more than ever on virtual connections.”

Every day, users can receive hundreds of memes, videos, voicemail messages and texts, including greetings, social invitations, and political propaganda. Users regularly deliver shocking and humorous messages, with the name of the original sender automatically stripped off, making them difficult to trace.

“It’s almost like going viral on Facebook,” Bantwal said.

WhatsApp has said its role in US politics is limited. But political misinformation on WhatsApp in Brazil, India and elsewhere prompted the service to start in 2018 to limit recipients when delivering the message.

It also introduced a chatbot that users can message to use fact-checking by internationally recognized organizations. But when Reuters figured out the subject system in messages sent to South Asian voters, it produced no results.

WhatsApp also said users can search the web with heavily forwarded messages to verify relevant facts, although Reuters has yet to find any related results.

A campaign spokesperson for Republican official Donald Trump said WhatsApp was not the center of attention of his social media team. But some misleading messages about the app, according to Indian voters on both sides, target it for racial justice policies and alleged extramarital affairs.

“More information on the Democratic candidates, but there is also fake news on the Republican side,” said Kannan Srinivasan, an Orlando businessman.

Exploit fear

It is not clear whether WhatsApp is generating incorrect information or whether the examples seen by Bantwal and others are part of organized efforts. He said the spelling and words suggest some writers are Indian residents who view Trump as superior for bilateral relations.

The messages seen by Reuters and sent to voters in the pivotal state present Biden’s views on Pakistan, Islam, China, taxation and the police in ways debunked by fact-checking groups.

Bantwal said the concerns of former Indian expatriates about crime, money and religion were distorted.

Other messages sent to South Asian voters in Texas and North Carolina seen by Reuters make false claims that voters will not count when voters choose a Democrat in every contest or when election officials sign ballots. vote.

Koneru estimated that the North Carolina group was spending around 15% of their time on WhatsApp and other popular services during the 2016 presidential election to correct errors regarding voting processes on WhatsApp and other popular services. .

“We’re doing our best to get started and clarify, but there are too many WhatsApp groups,” she said.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV employees and posted from a syndicated feed.)

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