Lynching: WhatsApp Horrified, But That’s Not Enough

30

Everyone is horrified. But that is not enough. WhatsApp has to start acting and put systems in place to prevent lynching.

New Delhi: Reacting to the stern warning given by the Indian government over the misuse of its platform for repeated circulation of provocative content, Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Wednesday wrote to the IT Ministry saying the company is horrified by terrible acts of violence.

Horrified? Yes. Everyone is horrified. But that is not enough. WhatsApp has to start acting and put systems in place, failing which, it should be sued for abetment to murder and violence.

The first step is to introduce a facility to test the primary source of a message that has the potential to trigger violence or rumour. The moment such anti-social elements who spread rumours are caught and punished stringently, killings would stop.

In a letter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) , WhatsApp said “We’re horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised. We believe this is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together.”

This is nothing but a standard reply. WhatApp must set deadlines to prevent more lynching and bloodshed.

WhatsApp which has over 200 million monthly active users in India, listed a number of measures it has taken in the recent past to control the spread of misinformation and abuse on its platform.

“We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender.

“This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon,” the company informed.

Over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp.

“Last week, we launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations – as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content,” WhatsApp said.

The social media platform has also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation.

“The fact-checking organisation Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published some reports on the source of the rumours that have contributed to the recent violence,” the company said.

While WhatsApp messages can be highly viral, the way people use the app is by nature still very private.

“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.

The company also asked to Indian government to talk further about the actions it is taking and its plans going forward.

“With the right action we can help improve everyone’s safety by ensuring communities are better equipped to deal with malicious hoaxes and false information — while still enabling people to communicate reliably and privately across India,” it noted.