India has asked Facebook owned messaging platform WhatsApp messenger to prevent the spread of false information, rumours and provocative texts on its WhatsApp messaging application, which have reportedly led to a series of lynchings and mob beatings across the country.
False messages about child abductors circulating WhatsApp have reportedly led to at least 31 deaths in 10 different states over the past year, including a deadly mob lynching on Sunday of five men in the western state of Maharashtra.
In a statement, the ministry of electronics and IT said on Tuesday, instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because of large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp. The unfortunate killing in many states such as Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and west Bengals are “deeply painful and regretable.”
“Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken,” India’s IT ministry said in a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday.
It also said that messaging platform “cannot evade accountability and responsibility” when such services are abused by users to spread misinformation.
“The government has also conveyed in no uncertain terms that Whatsapp must take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such mala fide activities,” the ministry added.
“WhatsApp cares deeply about people’s safety and their ability to freely communicate. We don’t want our services to be used for spreading harmful misinformation and believe this is a challenge that companies and societies should address.” said a WhatsApp spokesperson in a response to the ongoing controversy.
In its statement, the spokesperson also said that the company will be stepping up its efforts to help people spot false news and hoaxes.
The ministry said law enforcement authorities are working to apprehend those responsible for the killings.
WhatsApp has more than 200 million users in India, the messaging site’s largest market in the world.