Proto, the company WhatsApp has partnered with on its new Checkpoint Tipline service, has clarified that the service is “not a helpline” and is meant first and foremost as a research project. In an FAQ posted on its website, the company said “The Checkpoint tipline is primarily used to gather data for research, and is not a helpline that will be able to provide a response to every user.” A WhatsApp spokesperson later confirmed to Buzzfeed News that the announcement hadn’t meant to imply that every request would receive a response.
When the tip line was first announced on Tuesday, WhatsApp said that users would be able to share messages with it in order to have Proto verify their authenticity. It added that, “this combined effort by WhatsApp and industry organisations will help contribute to the safety of the elections, by giving people means to know if the information is verified and deter people from sharing rumors that have no basis in fact.” It also said that the tip line would create a database of rumors to study misinformation.
Subsequent tests by Reuters and Buzzfeed News suggested that not every message would receive a response from the tip line. Reuters noted that a message it reported was still awaiting classification two hours later, while Buzzfeed News sent two links, three text samples, and three images without receiving a response.
In its FAQ, Proto has now explicitly said that it will not be able to verify every available rumor. Instead it will focus on reports that can be evaluated on “publicly available and accessible information” and that it will not attempt to verify rumors that “would require journalistic reporting or fact-checking.” It says that the verification center may take up to 24 hours to verify a message, after which it will “prioritize newer queries.” However, over time Proto notes that its response times will improve as it builds up a directory of messages it’s evaluated.
Proto’s service, which will run for four months, is doing vital work in helping us to understand the spread of misinformation online. WhatsApp presents a particular challenge because of its end-to-end encryption. However, with elections already being targeted in places like Brazil, many had hoped that this initiative would have more of a focus on stopping the spread of misinformation in the first place.