We recently told you about disturbing stories coming in from around the world relating to the spread of fake news over WhatsApp. Particularly nasty stories have been coming out of India, with people being lynched and beaten to death to due to fake reports of child snatching spread across the messaging platform. The Indian government has now responded to this fake news crisis and has asked the Facebook-owned company to take action.
In a statement made on July 3, India’s Ministry of Electronics & IT said:
“Instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because of large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumors and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp… 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.”
WhatsApp has a massive presence in India and needs to work with the government to help the spread of fake news.
Events like this are troubling, and it isn’t the first time that Facebook-owned messaging platforms have been used to spread fake news and incite violence. Messenger has been used to incite violence in Myanmar with the UN pointing out that Facebook played a decisive role in the Rohingya crisis.
The Indian government’s statement on the current crisis engulfing WhatsApp makes it abundantly clear that it expects WhatsApp to act, saying:
“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 malafide activities.”
The statement, however, only talks about using “appropriate technologies,” to halt the spread of fake news, so it doesn’t offer a roadmap towards implementation. The problem is WhatsApp’s, and India expects it to act.
WhatsApp definitely needs to do more, but this is a very simple position for the Indian government to take. It is a position that ignores the cultural issues that are maybe contributing to the spread of fake news. After all, WhatsApp is available in countries around the world, but most of the violence caused by the spread of fake news is coming out of India.