IT Ministry is keen to see WhatsApp prioritise curbing of fake news on its platform, against the backdrop of lynching incidents claiming many lives, over its plans to launch payments service, as per a senior government official. The official told PTI that WhatsApp’s payment service matter had figured in the meeting on Monday between IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney and top WhatsApp executives, including COO Matthew Idema. The meeting saw the executives outlining the steps initiated by the Facebook-owned company recently to combat circulation of fake messages which incited lynching incidents in several parts of the country.
The ministry is of the view that WhatApp needs to resolve on priority basis the overhanging issue of misinformation and take more steps to control the rampant abuse of its platform for circulation of fake messages. WhatsApp has been told that the fake news issue is far more important than other plans in the current circumstances, said the official, who was privy to the recent discussions.
WhatsApp did not respond to an emailed query. The official noted that there are outstanding concerns over Whatsapp’s proposed payment service plan, including how and where will the data of users be stored in the backdrop of RBI’s instructions, mandating that data be stored in India. The government wants greater clarity on how the storage issue is being handled by WhatsApp and these matters are under discussion, the official said, adding that detailed examination is required also given that WhatsApp has a large user base in India.
India is the largest market for WhatsApp with the country accounting for over 200 million of its total 1.3 billion user base. Despite the ongoing concerns, the IT Ministry remains keen on new technology and innovation coming in, the official said. WhatsApp has already been slapped with two notices from the Indian government, asking it to come out with effective solutions to curb the menace of fake news beyond just labelling forwards.
It also warned the company that mediums used for propagation of rumours are liable to be treated as ‘abettors’ and can face legal consequences if they remain “mute spectators”. WhatsApp had responded to the first notice but is yet to send in a response to the second one.