NEW DELHI: In an effort to control the spread of fake and provocative messages on messaging app WhatsApp, which has led to the killing of several persons, the government on Wednesday called for several changes in the way the Facebook-controlled messaging app operates in India.
Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that WhatsApp should put a system in place to stop a particular message being circulated in large numbers in any particular area of a state. "If in any state, any part, on a particular subject, if there is a movement of large volumes of messages on WhatsApp, it is not rocket science that can't be discovered by application of technology. They must find a way to stop the spread of such messages," Prasad said.
The minister also said that he was happy with the measures suggested by WhatsApp to tackle the issue, but there was still a lot to do besides implementing them at the earliest.
"They are making good money in India, so they need to add more safety and security features, and if it requires creation of more avenues of technology, they need to do it. They simply cannot evade their accountability and responsibility by merely saying that we have created a platform and the rest you will have to look after," he said.
Prasad added that the government wanted WhatsApp to work closely with the home ministry, the IT ministry and state police forces to check the spread of hoax messages.
"What I have learned is that dangerous developments such as mob lynching in the name of child lifting are being provoked and instigated on many WhatsApp groups. Coordinating with different departments can help to spread the rumours and give police time to do their work," the minister said.
In the last one month, more than a dozen people have been killed by mobs after rumours spread on WhatsApp that they were child traffickers - the latest being five people lynched by a mob in Maharashtra on Sunday.
WhatsApp said in a statement on Wednesday that it was "horrified" by the "terrible acts of violence" and highlighted the steps that would be taken by the company to curb abuse of the messaging platform.
This comes after the government issued a warning to WhatsApp on Monday after messages on the social platform reportedly led to a spate of lynchings. It told the company to regulate "irresponsible and explosive messages" on its platform. WhatsApp said the issues of false news, misinformation and spread of hoaxes needed to be dealt with collectively by the government, civil society and technology companies. "WhatsApp cares deeply about people's safety, which is why we designed our app with security in mind...," the letter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said.
WhatsApp has listed out the measures it has undertaken to curb the spread of false news. These include product controls, digital literacy, fact-checking advocacy and proactive actions. The company also announced a project in which it will work with law enforcement officials in India closely and respond to "valid law enforcement requests" to help them investigate crimes. It will also share the "best practices" of the platform with the local police to be used for the community, the letter said.