Fighting misinformation requires more bandwidth

The pandemic has changed our behaviours in drastic ways. Besides social distancing like ensuring a one-metre distance from the next human being and staying put at home, we are prone to panic buying, and especially panic buying of toilet paper, for reasons I have yet to fathom.

We are also spending more time at home.

Suddenly, we aren’t out at the shopping malls or congregating with our usual social groups to catch up over coffee or meals at cafes and restaurants. Visiting the gym also isn’t a good idea and in countries like Malaysia, parks are closed.

While our physical activities in the real world reduces, our online activities increases. One of the ways we do this is via streaming entertainment like Netflix and communications tools like Whatsapp.

In the European Union at least, its markets and services commissioner, Thierry Breton said, “Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users… have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation.”

And streaming players like YouTube and Netflix are acknowledging his concerns, and agreeing to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU, to standard definition, by default.

This is despite Internet Service Providers or ISPs, not reporting a sharp increase in peak traffic, according to Sky News. 

In a recent blog post, Internet Society senior director of research and analysis David Belson wrote that digital networks should hold up well under the strains of new, Covid-19 related increases in usage. But this is with caveat that bandwidth demand doesn’t increase all at once.

“Core internet infrastructure providers should be able to easily absorb the increase in traffic and demand, especially if the growth is gradual over a period of days, weeks or months,” Belson wrote. “Cloud infrastructure providers should also have sufficient additional compute, storage and bandwidth capacity to enable their customers, including the e-learning, messaging and videoconferencing tool providers, to scale their systems as necessary.”

One such company is Whatsapp, and with very good reason.

Self-serve fact checking

Messaging provider, Whatsapp, has nearly doubled its server capacity in anticipation of a surge of usage, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

More specifically, the World Health Organization (WHO), has launched a new health alert tool on Whatsapp, which will send novel coronavirus-related information when one sends a message to +4179 893 1892. These includes travel advisories, infection rates around the world, and very importantly, misinformation that should be debunked.

Will Cathcart who runs Whatsapp, of WHO Health Alert, said WhatsApp’s priority, even more so during the pandemic, is to elevate accurate information and support fact-checking organisations around the world.

The company had earlier announced a USD1 million donation to the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network. The goal is to help buoy the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which is bringing together 100 local organsations in more than 45 countries to fight Covid-19-related disinformation.

Wired reported that to further fight misinformation, the latest Whatsapp Android beta version, will include a new icon on oft-forwarded messages. This icon is included as a convenient and seamless step to Google’s search engine, so that claims in message can be ‘checked out’ , before the user decides to forward it or not.

Whatsapp has over 2 billion users global, and WHO’s new health alert service saw over one million sign ups even before the service launched on 20 March, 2020.