WhatsApp seeks government co-operation to fight fake news, outlines new measures

Image for representational purpose only

Image for representational purpose only

"Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken", India's IT ministry said in a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday.

"Families of the five persons killed in a horrifying mob attack in Maharashtra's Dhule district refused to accept the victims" bodies on Monday. The government's move comes in the wake of incidents of lynchings reported in Assam, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu based on rumours of child kidnappers being spread on social media.

"In Mid-May, we added new protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left - a form of misuse we think it is important to correct".

A July 3rd statement from the nation's Ministry of Electronics & IT says "Instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because of large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp".

According to reports, around 25 people have been killed in the past two months by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp.

Demanding greater accountability from social media platforms like WhatsApp in the wake of recent mob violence across the country, fuelled by fake posts, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday said finding technological solutions to identify mass-circulation of messages on a particular issue in a particular area can not be "rocket science". "This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into group conversation - as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content". Last week, it also introduced a new setting which allowed only the administrators or owners of groups to send messages.

Fake news, with radically communal undertones circulating on WhatsApp, has led to a dozen killings by lynch mobs since May. For example, there is now a public beta test that is labelling any forwarded message.

Internet policy experts say WhatsApp doesn't have legal accountability and can not be held liable for the way people use it.

To enhance its understanding of the safety problems of users, WhatsApp said it was commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp in India. "If Facebook were to ban end-to-end encryption to be able to monitor what's happening on WhatsApp, chances are people will move to free software alternatives (that do the same)".

Pavan Duggal, a cyber expert and an attorney, said WhatsApp needs to comply with Indian laws and also adopt a "more sensitive and customized approach" for the country to reap the benefits of the vast Indian market.

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