New Delhi: Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday demanded greater accountability from WhatsApp and said it would not take “rocket science” on the part of the social media giant to identify provocative messages that are being used to incite violence across the country.
In a conversation with CNN-News18, the Information Technology minister said that WhatsApp is reaping commercial gains from India and must remain accountable and vigilant to prevent abuse of its platform.
“I wish to convey to them in unmistakable terms that India is the biggest market for WhatsApp. Therefore, they have an important responsibility and accountability in India. More particularly, if their platform is being misused - to spread hatred or to instigate to kill - they have to act upon this information. That is plain and simple,” the minister said.
WhatsApp has come under fire following a spate of lynching incidents triggered by provocative messages circulating on its platform. On Tuesday, the government issued a warning to the popular messaging app owned by Facebook asking it to take immediately take measures to prevent the spread of "irresponsible and explosive messages".
The string of lynchings across the country that has been fueled by rumours of child lifters has left the government stunned and grappling for ways to control the rising violence. In the last one year, 31 people have been killed over the rumours for no fault of theirs.
But the killings have seen a sharp spike in the last couple of months, with 19 people being beaten to death by mobs that fell for the fake social media messages.
The cases largely feature villagers, some of whom may be using smartphones for the first time. Inflamed by fake warnings of child trafficking rings or organ harvesters, they have attacked innocent bystanders and beaten them to death. In Tripura, even the official that was appointed to dispel the rumours was lynched.
WhatsApp has responded to the government notice saying it is "horrified" by the "terrible acts of violence" and has outlined steps being taken by the company to curb abuse of its platform. It also highlighted that fake news, misinformation, and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies working together.
Prasad said that curbing the rumours should not be tough for the US-based firm. “I acknowledge their prompt reply from California. Today in their reply, they've given two-three assurances that they're going to set-up systems to identify if bulk messages are being sent. They are also working with academics for more education about these things,” he said.
He gave his own “plain and simple suggestion” to WhatsApp. “It does not need a rocket science. Technological solutions can be found in the event bulk messages are sent on a particular day, on a particular issue, in a particular area, of a particular state,” he said.
When asked about WhatsApp’s usual defence of end-to-end encryption, Prasad said he was not concerned about it. “I am more importantly concerned about the security and safety of Indians. If any misuse of WhatsApp continues, we know our powers,” he said.