The IT Ministry is of the view that WhatsApp has not addressed all concerns raised by the government on curbing fake messages that incite mob lynching incidents, and may reach out to the messaging platform again in a few days, a senior official said today. “We will have to reach out to WhatsApp again… This only happens when one is not entirely satisfied with earlier response,” a senior IT Ministry official told PTI. The official added that IT Ministry has “more expectations” from WhatsApp and is “looking into the matter”. This could take 2-3 days, the official indicated.
“The Ministry feels more need to be done and they (WhatsApp) have not addressed all the concerns,” said the official who is privy to the development. An email sent to WhatsApp remained unanswered. WhatsApp has been under fire from the Indian government over fake news and false information being circulated on its messaging platform.
Such messages have incited mob-fury, triggering multiple cases of lynching across parts of India and the government has issued a stern warning to the company to clamp down on hoax messages designed to “provoke” and “instigate” people. IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has made it clear that WhatsApp “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”.
In response, WhatsApp announced a new feature that will let its users identify the messages that are forwarded. The Facebook-owned messaging service also brought out full-page advertisement in leading newspapers, first in the series of its user awareness campaign, giving “easy tips” to decide if information received is, indeed, true.
At the same time, WhatsApp had informed the government that fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies “working together”. Outlining steps it has taken to curb abuse of its platform, WhatsApp — in its response to a first notice sent by India’s IT Ministry — had said that it has the ability to prevent spam but since it cannot see the content of private messages, blocking can be done only based on user reports.
With India being its biggest market with over 200 million users, the messenger service had asserted that it responds to “valid” law enforcement requests in investigating crimes. WhatsApp had also told the government that it is “horrified by these terrible acts of violence” and its strategy to deal with the situation involves giving people the controls and information they need to stay safe while working pro-actively to prevent misuse of the service.
Rumours on WhatsApp have sparked off a spate of incidents involving mob fury, including one where five men were lynched on the suspicion of being child lifters in Maharashtra’s Rainpada village of Dhule district. More recently, a man was beaten to death, while three others were injured after a mob attacked them suspecting them to be child-lifters, near Bidar in Karnataka. The Supreme Court, yesterday, asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to effectively deal with incidents of mob lynching, saying “horrendous acts of mobocracy” cannot be allowed to become a new norm.