WhatsApp has had a rather crummy past few weeks in one of its most active markets, India. As the fake news wildfire continues to plague the platform with misinformation, the dearth of proper measures has begun to spawn larger, more alarming repercussions. Nearly thirty innocent people have lost their lives in lynchings by mobs who were misguided into believing the victims were kidnappers through rumors spread on WhatsApp. Most recently, the company was called out by the Indian government asking it to take immediate actions.
Clearly, WhatsApp is going through some turbulent times. However, it seems like the messaging app’s problems are about to get worse.
At its 41st Annual General Meeting, Reliance Jio announced that WhatsApp will be soon available on its line of feature phones. While that’s certainly a positive news for the messaging service’s numbers, it will also contribute significantly to its fake news epidemic. There are a handful of factors responsible for this.
The most critical one is the fact that it’s available on the JioPhone which if you’ve been even remotely following the news, has been a bit of a rage. In merely a span of a few months, JioPhone has climbed to the top of the charts with millions of units sold. That’s all thanks to the telecom operator’s clever and affordable plans which effectively make the JioPhone free of cost.
India globally has the biggest feature phone market and that’s only expected to exponentially rise in the coming months. The growth will be primarily driven by JioPhone and being the only mainstream messaging app present in its store, WhatsApp will possibly sustain an onslaught of new users subsequently as well.
In addition, India’s culture still isn’t well educated on questioning the veracity of information received on messaging apps. The situation is undoubtedly direr in the case of JioPhone’s target audience, most of which will be signing up for services like Facebook, WhatsApp for the first time and are largely unfamiliar with the hazards of the Interwebs.
Another reason why the JioPhone launch will substantially fuel WhatsApp’s fake news issues is Reliance Jio’s dirt-cheap and exclusive data plans. The telco has introduced dedicated plans for its feature phone which offer oodles of 4G data for as little as Rs 49 per month. WhatsApp being one of the major sources of entertainment and news in India, these offers will further enable feature phone users to browse for longer periods of time.
Moreover, now that WhatsApp has been officially introduced for KaiOS-powered feature phones, we can expect more brands to announce support soon as well. HMD Global has already said it is working to make the messaging app compatible with its new Nokia 8110.
WhatsApp has rolled out a few anti-spam features and is planning to add more in the coming months. Plus, the messaging giant also revealed a new initiative which awards $50,000 to researchers who can come up with better solutions. Irrespective of that, though, it will be quite a herculean task for WhatsApp to fight fake news in a market with over 200 million active users. It will be interesting to see how the company handles the forthcoming traffic from new feature phone users.