WhatsApp must have a grievance officer in India. The company must abide by the Indian laws. And, lastly since WhatsApp is the trendsetter of India’s digital story, it must have a proper corporate entity in India.
The aforementioned three points were suggested by the Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad in the recently held meeting with WhatsApp’s Chief Executive Chris Daniels. Moreover, with an aim to put an end to the string of fake messages, the Facebook-owned app was asked to come up with technical solutions to trace the origin of fake messages. And also to find solutions to the challenge caused by messages that ultimately leads to crimes such as mob-lynching.
From the studies, it has been revealed that WhatsApp is one of the key platforms where disinformation spreads like Fire, especially in India. India has a strong culture of using WhatsApp – user-curated public and private groups are a common way to stay in touch with friends, family, and the broader community. With over 200 million active users, WhatsApp is the most widely-used messaging app in India. In India, Internet penetration is so much that the misinformation tends to have more grassroots quality that it led to the brutal killing of over 20 human beings in various parts of India.
In the recent past, the peddling of fake news via WhatsApp has been the biggest factor in inciting violence in India at least a few times. In the year 2013, before the 2014 elections were held, Hindu Muslim riots took place in the Muzaffarnagar region of Uttar Pradesh State. It was the result of video lynching that spread through WhatsApp and other social media platforms. The video was old and was shot in another country but was presented as an event from the area of Muzaffarnagar.
In July 2018, fake news about foreigners abducting children led to the beating and lynching of innocent people in the state of Assam in northeastern India. Later in July, a similar incident took place in Karnataka in southern India, where WhatsApp messages wrongly blamed a Muslim for being a child kidnapper, and he was eventually murdered.
The WhatsApp CEO assured India that he will come out with a grievance system for India, and had also promised to work on technology to trace the origin of fake messages. But, as per the latest update, WhatsApp has rejected India’s demand for a solution to track the origin of fake messages on its platform. They hold the view that building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and affect privacy protection for users. The Facebook owned company very clearly stated that people use its platform for all kinds of “sensitive conversations”, therefore the need of the hour is to educate the people about misinformation.
The Indian government had served two notices to WhatsApp asking them about the details of the actions they would take to put an end to this menace. In its response, WhatsApp clearly informed them that they are building a local team, including a head for India and will introduce new features so that the users are able to identify forwarded messages. Last month, WhatsApp started labeling the forwarded messages and also restricted the number of forwards significantly that can be done at a time to fight the spread of fake news through the platform.
Blaming WhatsApp might be an easy thing to do. But is it really a right thing to do! Like this, how many social media platforms will be blamed! Can’t we Indians be educated enough to decide between right and wrong?