The government on Thursday sent a second notice to WhatsApp asking it to come out with more effective methods to check the spread of fake and provocative content as the company’s efforts so far have not helped check incidents of violence due to the spread of such messages. “WhatsApp has been requested on Thursday to come out with more effective solutions that can bring in accountability and facilitate enforcement of law in addition to their efforts towards labelling forwards and identifying fake news. It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) said in a statement.
On July 3, the MeitY had sent a notice to the company asking it to take immediate steps to tackle misuse of its platform as the spate of inflammatory messages led to violent incidents. WhatsApp responded on the same day indicating its initiative to mark forwarded messages and to step up efforts to detect fake news, the ministry said. After that, an unfortunate incident occurred in Bidar when 32-year-old software engineer Mohammed Azam was killed, and the incident was preceded by viral circulation of rumours on WhatsApp about child lifters. It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on the WhatsApp platform have not been adequately addressed by the messaging platform, the MeitY said.
In a terse note to WhatsApp, the ministry said, “There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies. When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischiefmongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action”.
A senior government official said the ministry had sought the advice of the Prime Minister’s Office on the issue before sending the second notice. The PMO is believed to have said it was important that social media platforms are not misused for fomenting unrest and any such act needs to be immediately checked.