That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:
NEW DELHI — In India, viral fake news is lighting up Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging app as the world’s biggest democracy prepares for national elections in the coming weeks.
Efforts by WhatsApp and the government to stop the spread of misinformation are having little effect, according to fact-checking groups and analysts.
That is a challenge for Facebook, as well as policy makers and voters grappling with digital falsehoods in India, a country of 1.3 billion people where mobile internet access has exploded in recent years.
It also provides a unique window on how Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s surprising strategic shift from public postings to private messaging could play out around the world. Mr. Zuckerberg said in March that Facebook would move to a model favoring encrypted group chats like those on WhatsApp, which is popular in emerging economies including Brazil and Indonesia.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market. Research firm Counterpoint estimates it has 300 million users, making it bigger here than Facebook. WhatsApp hasn’t released user figures since February 2017, when it said it had 200 million users in India. Since then, plummeting prices for mobile data and inexpensive smartphones have made WhatsApp the default digital town square in a country with deep societal divides.