WhatsApp “horrified” by mob lynches in India, will address “specific issues”

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  • On Tuesday, India wrote to Whatsapp about preventing the circulation of “irresponsible and explosive messages”.
  • This came as a response to the mob lynchings that were provoked across the country due to rumours circulated through the messenger.
  • WhatsApp replied to the Indian government on Wednesday saying that it was “horrified by the violence” and offered suitable measures to battle the rumours.

On Tuesday, the Indian government firmly warned WhatsApp that it must prevent the circulation of “irresponsible and explosive messages” through its medium. The warning was given after the messenger was used to spread rumours regarding a fake video on childlifting that was being circulated across the country. Several innocent people, suspected to be child lifters, have been lynched by mobs provoked by these false rumours. At least 31 such “unfortunate killings” have occured in one year across 10 Indian states including Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and West Bengal.

Even though the culprit who spread the fake video or the rumour hasn’t been found, the government believes that it is as important for WhatsApp to take remedial measures against provocative content on its platform, in the meanwhile.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) also said that WhatsApp can not “evade accountability and responsibility” for the violence that occurs due to the misuse of “good technological inventions”.

The warning came to WhatsApp on a day when it was distributing a competitive set of global awards to researchers interested in exploring similar safety issues posed by rumours spread on the messenger.

WhatsApp replied to the Indian government on Wednesday saying that it was “horrified by the violence”. The company further added that it has been has been “designed with security in mind” and is taking suitable measures to battle fake news and hoaxes better and that it believes that some of the new group features added to the App “will address some of the specific issues” that the government raised”.

For example, the messenger now gives group administrators the power to control who gets to send messages within groups, thereby giving them the power to reduce hoax messages.

The mail from WhatsApp had three headers which listed the measures it has or will take to control the spread of rumours on the platform. They were:
  • Digital Literacy and Fact-Checking
  • Proactive Action to Tackle Abuse
  • Product Controls
WhatsApp also informed the government that it is planning to launch a new label in India to give information about whether a message has been forwarded or composed (written in the original) by the sender. This could help check the credibility and accountability of the information that is freely circulated on the platform.

The letter also mentioned that a new project has been announced with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation and how it can be tackled.
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