MUMBAI (Reuters) – Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger service has responded to a call from India’s technology ministry to curb the spread of false information on its platform, saying such a task required a partnership between the pair as well as with society in general.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with over 200 million users. But false information on its app this year has contributed toward the triggering of mass beatings of more than a dozen people, at least three of whom have died.
On Sunday, five more people were lynched in Maharashtra on suspicion of being child abductors.
The rise in such incidents prompted the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Tuesday to ask WhatsApp to take immediate steps to prevent the circulation of false information and provocative content.
The ministry also said WhatsApp “cannot evade accountability and responsibility” when such services are abused by users to spread such misinformation.
“Like the Government of India, we’re horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised,” WhatsApp said in a letter to the ministry dated July 3 and reviewed by Reuters.
“We believe that false news, misinformation and the spread of hoaxes are issues best tackled collectively: by government, civil society and technology companies working together.”
The messaging service said it is giving users controls and information to help them stay safe, and that it plans to run long-term public safety advertising campaigns.
“As a starting point, we will soon publish new educational materials around misinformation and conduct our news literacy workshops,” WhatsApp said.
The firm has recently added a feature to its app preventing users from re-adding former members of messaging groups, and has enabled group administrators to decide who can send messages. It is also testing the labelling of forwarded messages.
(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Christopher Cushing)