Top WhatsApp executives, including COO Matthew Idema, have met IT Secretary and other Indian government officials to outline steps the company has initiated to combat circulation of fake messages on the platform that have even incited mob lynching incidents. According to government sources, Idema met IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney yesterday to discuss steps being taken by the Facebook-owned company to tackle fake news. The company’s proposed payments service — that is awaiting government nod — also came up for discussion, they added.
When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “Over the past week, WhatsApp has met with a broad range of digital literacy experts, business leaders, and government representatives to discuss India’s growing connected society and the importance of private end-to-end encrypted messaging”.
The spokesperson added that the “challenge of misinformation requires action from government, civil society, and technology companies” and that the company would engage with various stakeholders to tackle these problems. WhatsApp had previously stated that it had launched new safety features, including a label that clearly identifies forwarded messages and controls for group conversations in the last few weeks.
WhatsApp has already been slapped with two notices from the Indian government, asking it to come out with effective solutions to curb the menace of fake news beyond just labelling forwards. It also warned the company that mediums used for propagation of rumours are liable to be treated as ‘abettors’ and can face legal consequences if they remain “mute spectators”. WhatsApp had responded to the first notice but is yet to send in a response to the second one.
The company had said it cannot see the content of encrypted messages and therefore blocking can be done only based on user reports. WhatsApp is also working with over half a dozen partners in India to design a digital literacy programme for educating users on spotting false news and staying safe on the popular messaging platform.
It has also brought out full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, first in the series of its user awareness campaign, giving “easy tips” to decide if the information received is indeed true. WhatsApp officials have also engaged with the Election Commission (EC) and assured them that it will take various steps ahead of polls to prevent the misuse of its platform, and bring to India its fake news verification model ‘Verificado’ that has been used in other markets like Brazil and Mexico.
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