Fake News Crisis: Are WhatsApp & Cops Doing Enough to Stop It?
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar
Click here for the complete list of mob lynchings since 2015
India has become a country that loves to lynch. In the last few months alone, several people have been lynched because of rumours spread through popular messaging platform WhatsApp.
Now, it is easy for us to blame WhatsApp for spreading fake news.
You, me and every second person who forwards anything and everything they get are also responsible for the violence.
While Misinformation Spreads on All Social Media Platforms, Why Is It So Difficult to Follow Trails on WhatsApp?
This is where WhatsApp’s feature of end-to-end encryption comes into play. Everything on the platform is encrypted at the device level alone. All WhatsApp messages sent from your mobile, are saved on your device and on the device you send them to.
They are not saved on any server - so technologically, WhatsApp claims that it has no clue what content its users share and discuss. Cops claim that for them to figure out who first spread fake news, they need that data — and no one, not even WhatsApp, has it.
Is It Mission Impossible for the Cops and the Cyber Cell to Trace the Source of the Whatsapp Rumour?
Technologically, maybe. But using good old-school diligent policing, they could try to crack these cases.
The police must try and cover the very last mile, before JUST giving up.
What About Whatsapp? Has Whatsapp Tried to Address the Misuse of Its Platform?
Yes, but not enough. Remember again — people are losing their lives and there is a view that WhatsApp is not taking the problem seriously enough.
WhatsApp's response to the Government of India letter asking it to take “immediate” action, boiled down to just this:
First their age-old block button feature and that they have partnered with fake news-busting platforms — but how does that identify sources of fake news? WhatsApp also says that it is testing a digital label which helps in differentiating a forwarded message from a composed one — but has not said when it will be rolled out.
It says it is “horrified” with the lynchings, without addressing the obvious roadblock — the encryption.
If WhatsApp Does Not Want to Let Go of Its Encryption? What Else Can It Do?
As Nikhil Pahwa, a cyber expert, writes, one solution for WhatsApp as a platform lies in separating the public from the private — give users the power over what they make public and allow to be forwarded, thereby making it possible to hold them accountable for whatever they choose to make public.
Also, perhaps a feature that allows users to report fake news. Yes, these solutions do come with their own set of concerns, especially if they are misused by those in power. But it could be a start.