Four days after a software engineer was lynched by a mob over child lifting rumours that were spread on social media, including WhatsApp, in Bidar in Karnataka, the Centre warned the Facebook-owned company Thursday that it could face legal action “if they remain mute spectators” when rumours and fake news are propagated through such mediums.
In a second note to the US-based messaging platform, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) asked WhatsApp to come out with “more effective solutions” to prevent such incidents of mob violence.
“When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.
If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action,” the Centre said in a statement.
“Reports in the media resonate the general sentiment that there is much more that needs to be done by WhatsApp. There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies.”
An e-mail query sent to WhatsApp did not elicit any response.
The Centre said that the problems have not been adequately addressed by WhatsApp. “It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” the Centre noted.
Following the lynching of five men in Dhule in Maharashtra under similar circumstances, on July 3, the IT Ministry had written to WhatsApp asking the company to take immediate steps to tackle the misuse of their platform “wherein inflammatory messages were circulated that led to unfortunate incidents”. On the same day, WhatsApp responded and highlighted their initiative to mark forwarded messages and to step up efforts to detect fake news.
“Subsequently, an unfortunate incident has occurred in Bidar where a 32-year old software engineer Mohammed Azam was killed and this was preceded by viral circulation of rumours on WhatsApp about child lifters,” the Ministry said.
The Ministry also said that it was regretted that the “enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to the repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by Whatsapp”.
WhatsApp has announced measures to counter the spread of rumours and unverified information, including letting only group administrators decide which members can post and labelling forwarded messages to distinguish between the messages that have been forwarded from the ones that have been created by the sender.
Apart from the messaging app, Twitter, too last week announced it was expanding its effort to fight abuse and spam on its platform by removing the accounts that have been locked on account of suspicious behaviour.