WhatsApp’s latest step on curbing fake news fails to impress Centre

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Published: August 27, 2019 6:19:11 AM

Government sources, though, told FE that the label can be introduced for messages which has been forwarded hundred or thousand times.

The Facebook-owned platform had earlier this month introduced an update to its forwarded message label that helps people identify a message which has been forwarded multiple times.

WhatsApp’s latest initiative to curb fake news by putting a label on messages which have been forwarded more than five times has failed to satisfy the government, which continues to insist on traceability in order to get the trail of any unlawful content circulating on the platform.

The Facebook-owned platform had earlier this month introduced an update to its forwarded message label that helps people identify a message which has been forwarded multiple times.

As per WhatsApp, when a message is forwarded from one user to another user more than five times, this is indicated with a double arrow icon. Normal forwarded messages come with a single arrow icon. However, the company maintains that the number of times a message has been forwarded is end-to-end encrypted, and therefore, it did not know the exact number of times a message has been forwarded.
The government, however, feels that it’s not enough to curb fake messages. “It’s good but not good enough. Our position has been very clear. We want traceability of messages for law enforcement,” a source in the ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) said.

As per details of the latest update, WhatsApp has made some changes in the product features which label a message forwarded more than five times. Government sources, though, told FE that the label can be introduced for messages which has been forwarded hundred or thousand times.

IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had last month again asked WhatsApp to develop a mechanism to trace origin of messages in order to check fake news and provide assistance to law enforcement agencies. The minister had conveyed the government’s stance to Will Cathcart, the global head of WhatsApp.

Earlier, the messaging platform had limited forwarding to five chats at once and removed the quick forward button next to media messages. WhatsApp had received several warnings and notices from the government over the spread of fake news. The firm had earlier expressed its inability to trace the origin of messages citing privacy of consumers, thereby triggering a controversy. The government made it clear to the American firm that platforms such as WhatsApp cannot run away from their responsibility of checking the menace of fake news by citing privacy an excuse.

The government is in advanced stages of finalising the revised intermediary rules that would make social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Google more accountable. As per the new rules, firms have to provide information and assistance within 72 hours of request made with regard to origin of any content deemed unlawful and remove it.

The notification of the guidelines will automatically end the debate around WhatsApp and other messaging platforms such as Telegram regarding traceability of messages.

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