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India asks WhatsApp to control inciting content

The Indian government has asked messaging service WhatsApp to take necessary measures to prevent the spread of inciting content that has resulted in several incidents of mob lynchings in the subcontinent.

Saying the social media platform cannot evade its responsibility, the government said WhatsApp should prevent the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages” through application of technology.

The government has “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,” reported PTI.

When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson told the news agency that it “cares deeply about people’s safety and their ability to freely communicate. We don’t want our services used to spread harmful misinformation and believe this is a challenge that companies and societies should address. For example, we recently made a number of updates to our group chats and will be stepping up efforts to help people spot false news and hoaxes.”

India is an important market for WhatsApp, as the Facebook-owned company has 200 million users in India.

The government’s warning to WhatsApp comes in the wake of an increase in the number of lynchings of innocent people because of certain “fake and motivated” messages circulated through messaging apps.

A total of 10 people have been killed in India’s Maharashtra alone in the past one-and-a-half-months after rumours spread on social media that they were child traffickers.

The latest incident happened on Sunday (1) when five people were lynched by a mob in Dhule district. Incidents of lynching have also been reported from Aurangabad, Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Nashik, Beed, Parbhani, Nanded, Latur, Gondia and Chandrapur districts, reported news agency PTI.

In all these cases, mob set upon strangers fearing they may either be child traffickers or were roaming around the locality with the intention of committing theft, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Bipin Bihari told PTI.

“We are witnessing such kind of incidents for the last one-and-a-half months. Apart from ten deaths, 18 persons were injured in these attacks, including, in some cases, the policemen who tried to save victims from the mob,” he said.

More than 60 people have been arrested in these cases.

The police has also issued advisory urging people not to believe rumours circulating on social media platforms.

“We are trying to counter the misinformation by aggressive campaigning on social media, WhatsApp and local TV channels,” M. Ramkumar, the superintendent of police in Dhule, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.

“We want to convey the message that all rumors are false and they should not fall prey to them,” Ramkumar said.