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‘Horrified by Acts of Violence’: WhatsApp’s Response to Centre

WhatsApp is also reportedly testing a new label that will differentiate forwarded and composed messages.

Updated
India
3 min read
Since May 2018, rumours spread on WhatsApp have allegedly led to at least 19 deaths in India.  
i

Amid a spate of lynchings purportedly triggered by messages on its platform, WhatsApp on Wednesday, 4 July, said it is "horrified" by the "terrible acts of violence", and outlined steps being taken by the company to curb abuse of the messaging platform.

The government had, on Tuesday, issued a stern warning to the social media platform asking it to take immediate measures to prevent the spread of "irresponsible and explosive messages". It had categorically told the popular messaging platform that it couldn’t evade its accountability on the issue.

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‘Curbing Fake News Should Be Dealt Collectively’

In its response to the IT Ministry's missive, WhatsApp has said false news, misinformation and spread of hoaxes are issues that need to be dealt with collectively, by government, civil society and technology companies working together.

WhatsApp cares deeply about people’s safety which is why we designed our app with security in mind from the get-go.
WhatsApp Statement

WhatsApp to Differentiate Forwards

In an effort to control the spread of fake news, the social media company said that it was testing a new label that will differentiate forwarded and composed messages.

We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if the content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon.
WhatsApp Statement

The company also said it follows a two-pronged approach that includes giving people controls and information they need to stay safe, and working proactively to prevent misuse on WhatsApp.

In its detailed response sent to the IT ministry, WhatsApp has listed the various measures being undertaken by the platform to curb the spread of false news and misinformation. These include product controls, digital literacy, fact-checking advocacy and proactive actions to tackle abuse.

"We also respond to valid law enforcement requests to help them investigate crimes. And soon, we will start an engagement program with law enforcement officials around India so they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful," it said.

Appreciate WhatsApp’s Prompt Reply: IT Minister

Following the Facebook-owned company’s statement, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that he appreciates WhatsApp’s reply and expected prompt reaction from it.

“They have promised that they would create a label for forwarded message. They have also assured that WhatsApp will use machine learning to identify mass circulation of messages on its platform,” Prasad said in a press conference.

India is one of the biggest markets for WhatsApp having biggest user base in the world. Therefore, it is important for WhatsApp to focus on security related aspects of people of India as well.
IT Minister RS Prasad
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Since May 2018, rumours spread on WhatsApp have allegedly led to at least 19 deaths in India.

Fake messages, claiming that child traffickers and robbers have entered cities and towns, have purportedly been responsible for at least 13 incidents of fatal mob-violence across eight Indian states.

In the most recent incident, five people were lynched in Maharashtra’s Dhule district on Sunday, 1 July, by villagers who suspected that they were part of a gang of child-lifters.

(With inputs from PTI)

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