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As the Indian elections looms, Facebook steps up fact-checks

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Facebook Inc is expanding the reality-monitoring network in India to curb the spread of disinformation as the world’s largest democracy is preparing for elections that will be held by May, the U.S.-based social media giant said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users in addition to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this photo illustration March 28, 2018. REUTERS/dado Ruvic/Illustration

“We are committed to combating the spread of fake news on Facebook, especially ahead of the 2019 General election campaign season,” Manish Khanduri, Facebook India news partnership head, said in the statement.

The coming election is expected to be a close fight between Prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata y (BJP) and the opposition Congress y and its regional allies.

Last week, Facebook said that it was the introduction of stricter rules for political ads in India.

The latest move to reinforce the fact checking program is aimed at verifying the accuracy of the stories and the prevention of the spread of hoaxes.

Five new partners, including the India Today Group, a leading local media house, have been added to Facebook’s fact-checker network, taking the total number to seven, ” the statement said.

And the program has been expanded with services in more Indian languages, so that now English and five local languages, the statement added.

India is Facebook’s largest market by the users and the WhatsApp messaging service has more than 200 million users in the country thanks to the rise of cheap mobile data and the increasing penetration of smartphones.

In addition to the worries about the misuse of social media for political purposes, there is also criticism about the dissemination of false, incendiary messages that have stirred up communal tensions and fueled mob violence.

Last year, after a series of lynchings were incited by messages sent on its service, WhatsApp, the reduction of the number of people or groups that a message can be forwarded at once to cut in five of 20 previously. WhatsApp has since moved to make that the norm worldwide.

Facebook’s largest competitor in India, the Alphabet Inc, Google, has also conducted numerous workshops across the country to train journalists to verify news.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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