WhatsApp tests new feature to fight misinformation: Search the web

WhatsApp, one of the most popular instant messaging platforms on the planet, is testing a feature that could make it simpler for its 2 billion users to tell whether the assertion made in messages they have received is true.

In the recent most beta version of its Android app, the Facebook-owned service has given users the ability to quickly comb through the web with the text or video they have received for more context.

WhatsApp has been testing this feature in some capacity for several quarters now (last year, it allowed some users to look up an image on the web), but a spokesperson has now told TechCrunch that the platform plans to roll out this feature in the near future.

“We are working on new features to help empower users to find out more information about the messages they receive that have been forwarded many times. This feature is currently in testing, and we look forward to rolling it out in the near future,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Images credit: @shrinivassg

The timely test of this feature comes at a time when WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are being used more often than ever before as people stay in touch with their friends, families, and colleagues in the face of a global pandemic.

And as it has happened in the past, several platforms including WhatsApp are grappling with spread of misinformation — this time about the coronavirus.

But WhatsApp has moved to take action much swiftly this time. It began reaching out to dozens of governments last month to assist in their efforts to provide accurate information to the general public, it said today.

Earlier today, India announced a WhatsApp bot to help its citizens be better informed about coronavirus. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization also announced a WhatsApp bot for people globally to bust myths about the coronavirus and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the disease.

“The WHO Health Alert is the latest official NGO or government helpline to become available on WhatsApp, joining the Singapore Government, The Israel Ministry of Health, the South Africa Department of Health, and KOMINFO Indonesia. We are actively working to launch local services with other countries as well,” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Finally dark mode arrives to soothe your 3am WhatsApps

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is finally giving users’ eyes a break by rolling out a dark mode setting to the messaging app — years after some other tech giants figured out how to offer a ‘dimmer pixels’ switch.

The messaging giant says the feature is rolling out globally in the “coming days” to the latest version of WhatsApp on both Android and iOS.

The setting can be enabled via system settings for users running the most recent versions of the respective smartphone OSes — or via the WhatsApp settings option on Android:

Users on Android 10 and iOS 13 can use dark mode by enabling it in system settings. Users on Android 9 and below can go into WhatsApp Settings > Chats > Theme > select ‘Dark’.

We’re told iPhone users not running the latest OS are out of luck. “Dark Mode will only be available to users on iOS 13 and above,” said a spokesman.

WhatsApp says the eye-soothing option has been the most requested feature from users everywhere.

Nonetheless it’s taken its sweet time to jump aboard the dark mode bandwagon.

YouTube, for example, announced a dark mode for its iOS app a full two years ago. While Twitter added an even darker mode to its dark mode more than a year ago. Google was also showing off a system-wide dark mode for Android Q last May. In June Apple followed suit, previewing iOS 13’s eye-soothing setting.

Apparently Facebook has low interest in moving fast and soothing things. But, er, it got there in the end…

In a blog post about the launch, WhatsApp writes that it spent its time “researching and experimenting” how to design a dark mode that would ensure “readability” and maintain “information hierarchy”.

Which is a fancy way of saying it didn’t want to reduce eye-strain so much that users might actually remember they need to fall asleep, rather than carry on WhatsApping through the night.

“When choosing colours, we wanted to minimise eye fatigue and use colours that are closer to the system defaults on iPhone and Android respectively,” it writes, before reversing the intent by expressing the counter design: “We wanted to help users easily focus their attention on each screen. We did this by using colour and other design elements to make sure the most important information stands out.”

Perhaps it’s clear why it took the company so long to ‘fix’ eye strain after all.

The Android flavor of the dark mode (below) also appears a smidge less dark on the contacts screen view vs the iOS version (pictured at the top of this post) — though that may be to do with differences in how the two OSes handle dark mode at the system level since WhatsApp said it wanted to reflect those choices.