While much of the fake news conversation in the U.S. has been about what's spread via Facebook's News Feed, reports of misinformation spreading globally on Facebook's messenger properties, WhatsApp and Messenger, demonstrate another major problem for the global tech company.
What's happening: Facebook's messaging footprint is larger than its main app, globally, and an increasing number of people in developing countries are reliant on its messaging platforms for news and information. If Facebook is struggling to contain fake news on its algorithmically-programmed News Feed, you can imagine how difficult it must be to clamp down on fake news on intentionally opaque and encrypted platforms that are meant to protect individual conversations.
- In India, the Minister for Electronics and Information Technology said the country is "helpless" to stop the fake news epidemic on WhatsApp because it can't access content through WhatsApp's encryption, per CNET.
- In Kenya, government officials accused the managers of 21 WhatsApp groups of spreading hate, per Quartz.
- In Catalonia, a journalist tells The Washington Post that they are aware of fake news being spread on WhatsApp, "but we've only been able to debunk those pieces that were sent to us by our users since Whatsapp is such a private system."
- In the U.S., Facebook admitted earlier this month that some of the 470 accounts Facebook identified at the time as Russian-backed used its Messenger product as part of the efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, per Recode.
Why messaging is so hard to monitor: WhatsApp and Messenger both allow participants to use end-to-end encryption on mobile, meaning stories, posts, pictures and videos cannot be viewed by anyone outside of an individual or group conversation — making fake news harder to track. As WhatsApp notes in its post about end-to-end encryption, not even WhatsApp can read what is shared between users on its platform.
Axios' Sara Fischer has more here.