India issues fresh warning to WhatsApp over lynching deaths

This photo taken on June 10, 2018 shows Indian protesters demanding the arrest and punishment of people involved in the killing of two men in Karbi Anglong district, during a protest in Guwahati, the capital city of India’s northeastern state of Assam. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
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India issues fresh warning to WhatsApp over lynching deaths

  • India’s Supreme Court earlier this week asked the government to enact a new law to stem what it called “horrendous acts” of lynching and punish offenders
  • WhatsApp has also bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation

NEW DELHI: WhatsApp could face legal action in India if it does not take further steps to tackle the spread of false rumors, the government said Thursday, in fresh criticism of the platform over a spate of lynchings.
More than 20 people have been killed by mobs in the past two months across the country after being accused of child kidnapping and other crimes in viral messages circulated on WhatsApp.
Under pressure from authorities to end the spread of “fake news,” the hugely popular smartphone service has introduced new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded.
But in a strongly worded statement released Thursday, India’s information technology ministry said the action taken was not enough.
“Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp,” it said.
“When rumors and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.
“If (WhatsApp) remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.”
WhatsApp has also bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation.
But the platform has refused to snoop on user content to help authorities crack down on the issue, citing privacy protection.
In its statement, the ministry called on WhatsApp to enable the “traceability” of provocative or inflammatory messages when an official request is made.
India’s Supreme Court earlier this week asked the government to enact a new law to stem what it called “horrendous acts” of lynching and punish offenders.
Lynchings based on misjudgment or malicious information are not a new phenomenon in India. But the spread of smartphones and Internet access in the country’s poorest and most isolated areas has exacerbated the problem.
An engineer was killed in a mob attack last week in the southern state of Karnataka, while five people were lynched in neighboring Maharashtra on July 1.
The government had taken WhatsApp to task earlier this month for the “irresponsible and explosive messages” being shared among its 200 million Indian users — the company’s largest market.
In response to that criticism, WhatsApp said it was “horrified” by the violence and announced changes that it said would reduce the spread of unwanted messages.


WhatsApp to clamp down on ‘sinister’ messages in India

Updated 21 August 2018
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WhatsApp to clamp down on ‘sinister’ messages in India

NEW DELHI: Facebook-owned WhatsApp assured the Indian government on Tuesday that it would develop tools to combat the problem of fake messages, the country’s information technology minister said.
India has stepped up efforts to crack down on mass message forward after it found that people were using platforms such as WhatsApp to stoke public anger. False messages circulated on WhatsApp have led to a series of mob beatings across the country this year.
WhatsApp chief executive officer Chris Daniels met India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday, assuring the government of a solution.
Prasad told reporters he had asked WhatsApp to develop a detailed mechanism to trace the origin of any such “sinister” messages.
“It does not need rocket science to locate a message,” Prasad said after his meeting, adding that WhatsApp had said it was working with law enforcement agencies to develop its systems.
A Facebook spokeswoman in India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with more than 200 million users and one where it says people forward more messages, photographs and videos than any other country.
There are also concerns that supporters of political parties could use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread false messages in the run-up to India’s national elections in 2019.
Following calls from the government to stem the platform’s misuse, WhatsApp has moved to deter mass message forward and launched an advertising campaign to educate consumers.
In July, WhatsApp said message forward will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.