Centre warns WhatsApp against ‘evading responsibility’ on spread of provocative messages


At least 12 people have reportedly been taken into custody in connection with a lynching of five people in Dhule, India. Assam, too, witnessed a case of lynching last month on similar grounds.

And who was responsible?

In response to the government's statement that WhatsApp can not "evade accountability and responsibility" on a problem as grave as this, the tech firm has outlined measures it plans to take to get to the bottom of the fake news problem in India - its biggest market with over 200 million monthly users.

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"Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken to prevent proliferation of these fake and at times motivated/sensational messages", the statement adds. Like the Government of India, we're horrified by these bad acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised.

It also highlighted that fake news, misinformation, and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies working together.

Police forces in various parts of India claim to have been working for weeks to stop this rumor from making the rounds, but those efforts have clearly not had much of an effect. Unfortunately, we can not blame a messaging app which is used worldwide, if the government itself fails to address the issues which are largely at play in the country. There are more than 1.5 billion users across the world. In Maharashtra, police have distributed pamphlets to debunk the messages; elsewhere, law enforcement has set up new monitoring stations in an attempt to identify and preempt inflammatory reports before they take off, according to the BBC. But again, this isn't a WhatsApp problem.

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Circulation of fake news and propaganda getting passed as facts are turning out to be a major problem for India. Numerous fake news messages or posts have an accompanying visual or audio media which makes them all the more convincing.

"Many people (nearly 25 per cent in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than 10 people); and nine in 10 messages are still sent from just one person to another", WhatsApp informed.

In addition, police forces need to be better equipped to respond to crimes connected to the spread of misinformation, and need to engage more deeply with communities so as to earn their trust, prevent vigilantism and mob riots, and address citizens' fears about issues like kidnappers on the loose.

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Internet policy experts say WhatsApp doesn't have legal accountability and can not be held liable for the way people use it.