WhatsApp must act over hoax messages that are leaving people dead, Indian government says

‘The rumours are striking at a very primal fear of one’s child being at risk,’ says police officer Harsh Poddar

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 04 July 2018 09:08 BST
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False news and hoaxes are being spread on the Facebook-owned app
False news and hoaxes are being spread on the Facebook-owned app

India’s government has attacked WhatsApp over messages that have led to people being killed in horrific and violent mob attacks.

Authorities have asked the Facebook-owned app to stop the spread of false news and hoaxes to ensure no further attacks can happen.

At least 20 people have been killed, mostly in rural villages, in many Indian states by mobs. The attacks come after stories spread quickly and without regard for the truth on WhatsApp and other messaging services.

The messages often describe some kind of threat – such as warning people about gangs abducting children, or about people harvesting body parts. Those attacked are usually new in town or unknown, and are accused of being the people described in the messages.

India’s ministry of electronics and information technology said in a statement late on Tuesday that the lynchings were tied to “irresponsible and explosive messages” circulated on WhatsApp. The ministry wasn’t specific on preventative measures it expected the company to take.

The social messaging platform said in a blog that it would institute awards for research on “spread of misinformation” across its platform.

In India, a country with more than one billion phone subscribers who have access to cheap mobile data, false news messages and videos can instantly go viral, creating mass hysteria and stoking tension.

Investigating officials say the rumours have targeted outsiders, from holidaymakers to migrant workers from other states, and there is often no link with actual cases of missing children.

“The rumours are striking at a very primal fear of one’s child being at risk,” said police officer Harsh Poddar, referring to the lynching of two people in Maharashtra on Sunday.

“We want people to be careful about their children, but are arresting people for causing public panic.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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