The Election Commission has mentioned an Indian app made by students of IIT-Kanpur in its fight against fake news.The announcement comes as a surprise since the app, ShareChat, has been clubbed with major social media platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
NDTV has learnt that ShareChat was one among the major players on social media to voluntarily reach out to the Election Commission to work together ahead of the national election. The election body had sought feedback and responses from all major platforms, both international and Indian. But only Facebook, Google, Twitter and ShareChat came on board. This explains why ShareChat was mentioned by the Election Commission while bigger platforms, perhaps more prone to misinformation, like TikTok and SnapChat were not. Chinese-owned ByteDance, which also owns TikTok and Helo, was not involved in this attempt to fight fake news in coordination with the Election Commission. Tik Tok and Helo though since has told NDTV that it has reached out to the Election Commission to comply with their instructions and establish an escalation chnnel. Also that Tik Tok and Helo will not serve any paid political advertisements on their platforms in India throughout this election period. Helo is alleged to be a copy of ShareChat and that us why, ShareChat has sued them.
"We have 45 million users each month in India that makes us one of India's largest social media platform and India's largest Indian language social media platform. We are an Indian company so we wanted to be responsible and so we wanted to reach out to the Election Commission," Berges Y Malu, ShareChat's head of public policy, told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
What makes the Indian app created by three Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kanpur graduates unique is that it appears to have a clear edge on WhatsApp in the fight against misinformation and fake news. This despite the fact that the app is in 14 Indian languages but not English.
"The app gets more than 1 billion impressions per month, which means the content on the app is shared on WhatsApp over 1 billion times. But WhatsApp is a closed platform where the source of the 'fake' content cannot be found due to the end to end encryption of the app. Whereas, ShareChat requires your mobile number to be fed in and each post can be traced back to the origin, allowing the app to take down any reported content," Berges Y Malu said.
On the day the Election Commission announced the poll dates, it reflected a major focus on the aspect of fighting fake news on social media where platforms like ShareChat would take action on content reported by the Election Commission.
ShareChat, which has employed a fact-checking platform to help them, promises to take down fake news or problematic content within three hours. All these major social media platforms have already appointed dedicated grievance officers who will be available to the Election Commission to approach as and when fake news is spotted.
The increase in political content in this election season is evident on the ShareChat app which is targeted towards tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
"A lot of politicians are joining our platforms, including Union Ministers like Rajyavardhan Rathore and General VK Singh, Chief Ministers and anyone who wants to consume political content, particularly in their own regional language, finds ShareChat to be the perfect social media platform," Mr Malu told NDTV.
Rakesh Dubbudu, founder of Factly and the man who has worked with the Internet and Mobile Association of India to come up with a report on fake news said that the move by the Election Commission is not foolproof but it is the first step in the right direction.
While Jency Jacob, founder fact-checking website of Boom which has been employed by Facebook for this election, told NDTV that "The Election Commission might have its heart in the right place but they have been too late in entering this space. What were they doing in the years 2017 and 2018 when several state elections were taking place. Pilot projects being introduced now in the middle of the major general elections should have been introduced then."