WhatsApp in India says partnership with government, society needed to combat misinformation

Jul 05, 2018, 05:48
WhatsApp in India says partnership with government, society needed to combat misinformation

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in India today, with over 200 million active users.

Fake videos and rumours of alleged child-lifters have resulted in mobs targetting innocent bystanders or visitors. On Sunday, a mob in the western state of Maharashtra set upon five people from a nomadic tribe of beggars, beating the victims to death and then turning on police who tried to intervene.

Conveying its deep disapproval to the top brass of WhatsApp, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) stated that the Facebook-owned company "cannot evade accountability and responsibility", according to an official statement.

The company, in the middle of a storm following the misuse of its platform to spread fake information, said it has made a number of updates to its group chats, and will "step up efforts" to help spot fakes.

"When rumours start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely", senior Assam police official Mukesh Agarwal told BBC Hindi's Dilip Kumar Sharma, adding that police were watching various social media sites to try to stop the spread of the messages.

The messaging service said it is giving users controls and information to help them stay safe, and that it plans to run long-term public safety advertising campaigns.

The firm has recently added a feature to its app preventing users from re-adding former members of messaging groups, and has enabled group administrators to decide who can send messages. They also said they're trying to see that messages aren't forwarded without reading&understanding.

In addition, it also said that it would soon launch an engagement programme with law enforcement officials across the country to ensure that "they [the officials] are familiar with our [WhatsApp's] approach, and how we can be helpful".

WhatsApp has already partnered with news organizations in Brazil and Mexico - with grants provided Facebook - to counter and fact-check news reports.

WhatsApp has taken cognisance of the Indian government's concerns about the propagation of fake news via its platform. In eastern Tripura, internet and SMS services were suspended last week after a "rumor buster" hired by the local government to educate local villagers was killed by a mob, Agence France-Presse reported.

Indian officials ordered more than 70 stoppages previous year compared with six in 2014, according to the Internet Shutdowns tracker portal. IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday warned the company to take immediate steps to check the menace.

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