WhatsApp fake news problem

Frederick Owens
July 6, 2018

The five were lynched after being suspected of being part of a gang of "child lifters' on Sunday".

At least 20 people have been killed in such brutal attacks since early May, and dozens more have been injured.

The IT Ministry on Tuesday asked WhatsApp, which has over 200 million monthly active users in India, to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and at times motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

WhatsApp has taken cognisance of the Indian government's concerns about the propagation of fake news via its platform.

The warning came to WhatsApp on a day when it was distributing a competitive set of global awards to researchers interested in exploring similar safety issues posed by rumours spread on the messenger.

In response to the government's statement that WhatsApp can not "evade accountability and responsibility" on a problem as grave as this, the tech firm has outlined measures it plans to take to get to the bottom of the fake news problem in India - its biggest market with over 200 million monthly users.

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After five men were bludgeoned to death by a crazed mob in Maharashtra after rumours that they were child lifters, the centre conveyed its deep disapproval and told the senior management of WhatsApp to take "immediate action" over the "irresponsible and explosive messages".

Taking cognizance of the notice, WhatsApp issued a statement claiming that they are now working on software for India that will inform the user if the message was composed by the user or if it was forwarded one. Even though the company has said it will not store payment-sensitive data such as debit card numbers or UPI pin numbers, Facebook could gain visibility into the payment behaviour of consumers.

The Facebook (FB)-owned service is testing a tool in India that will show users when a message has been forwarded rather than composed by the sender, it said in a letter to the Indian government on Wednesday.

ET had reported in April that the Facebookowned messaging app, which has 1.3 billion users globally and its largest user base in India, is looking for a country head. "They can't say that we are a technology company and we have created a product and now we don't know what to do", he said.

"We are also working hard to educate people about how to stay safe online".

In Mid-May, said WhatsApp, it added new protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left - a form of misuse we think it is important to correct. For example, there is now a public beta test that is labelling any forwarded message. The announcement comes after the Indian government criticized the messaging service for its role in spreading false information tied to a series of deadly instances of mob violence in the country. "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.

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