If you keep your WhatsApp trimmed and up-to-date, you might have noticed several new features and small changes on the platform. Interestingly enough, several have debuted with the focus of diluting the impact of fake news on the platform.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Graeme Richards on SABC 3’s Expresso Show to discuss just what these new changes are, and why they matter.

Remind me – what is fake news, again?

News has been around for centuries – whether we’re simply catching up with a friend, catching the headlines in a daily newspaper, or even watching television – our daily lives are shaped by media, journalism, and (presumably) factual reporting of new developments.

Fake news (at least, in its current form) is a relatively new phenomenon which upends this process by crafting ‘news stories’ that are explicitly false, sensational, or misleading. Chiefly, these are designed to encourage virality – in media speak, the tendency for content to be circulated or shared both rapidly and widely.

While fake news can simply be used to discredit a person or idea, far more insidious goals can be afoot. For example, by clicking on a link to a fake news story, you might bring extra traffic to a website, help a publisher accrue revenue through that traffic, or – in the worst case – leave your personal or private information ready for plunder.

Why is WhatsApp experiencing a problem with fake news?

WhatsApp is presently one of the most major, widespread, and influential messaging platforms – month-to-month, WhatsApp is estimated to accommodate 1.5 billion monthly active users. Given that WhatsApp makes sharing web links easy and provides everyone with the means to communicate to people already in their address book (such as colleagues, friends, or family), it is tremendously easy to share or spread messages that have an air of credibility and might be reinforced by one’s personal relationships.

Though WhatsApp isn’t the only platform battling fake news, its struggles might be the hardest. The effects of fake news on the service are perhaps most keenly felt in India, where several fake news stories have prompted mobs to maim or murder several people.

What measures has WhatsApp introduced to solve this problem?

If you’ve used WhatsApp this past week, you may have noticed that messages you forward to another contact might bear a ‘Forwarded’ tag above them. This has been introduced as a bid to curb the association of a particular message with a trusted contact, and instead highlight that the said message originated elsewhere.

On a more technical front, WhatsApp has also limited the number of times a message can be forwarded to prevent users from batch-forwarding content to hundreds of users at a time. In the Indian market space, WhatsApp has even taken out full-page newspaper advertisements  highlighting ten easy steps to identify fake news.

Will any of this work?

Unfortunately, the problem of fake news extends far more widely beyond WhatsApp itself, and might require a variety of technical solutions to curb, if not prevent entirely.

However, WhatsApp’s early moves mean that can expect far more attention to be applied to the problem in the first instance – and given WhatsApp’s immense popularity, I feel we can count this as a positive first step.

If you’d like to sift fake news from real journalism, I’d recommend taking a look at popular fact-checking services such as Snopes.