Concerned over growing misuse of social media and the increasing number of cases of mob lynching, the government on Tuesday told the social media platform WhatsApp to abide by Indian law since lynchings have been linked to the spread of misinformation on its platform.
Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad instructed visiting CEO Chris Daniels to comply with the law of the land and take “suitable” steps to prevent misuse of the instant messaging platform.
Prasad, in a brief interaction with the media after meeting Daniels here, said he also directed the WhatsApp boss to appoint a grievance officer and establish a separate corporate entity in the country. “WhatsApp has biggest footprint in India and has done a great job, be it in the field of education or helping people in Kerala floods. But I’m more concerned about the platform being misused for mob lynching and revenge porn. It has to find a technical way to deal with these issues,” the minister said.
“I have told WhatsApp to comply with the Indian laws, open a corporate entity and appoint a grievance officer here who can be reached to address such issues,” Prasad added.
Daniels, according to Prasad, assured him that the Facebook-owned platform will soon take steps on all these counts. The minister also asked the WhatsApp CEO to work closely with law enforcement agencies and create public awareness to prevent misuse of the platform.
About WhatsApp’s impending roll out of payments services, Prasad said the company has assured the government that it would comply with the stipulated rules. “We said we have (drawn) attention of the RBI, namely (on) financial data being (stored) in India. The RBI is working on the guidelines and he (Daniels) has assured me, whatever guidelines RBI comes out with, he will comply with that,” the minister said.
WhatsApp, however, did not issue any statement on the outcome of the meeting. The meeting came against the backdrop of over 30 incidents of mob lynching in the recent past that were linked to the circulation of fake messages and misinformation on WhatsApp.
The Facebook-owned platform has over 200 million monthly active users in India. WhatsApp was hauled up in July by the government on its failure to check the spread of fake and provocative content on its platform amid growing lynching episodes.
In a notice, the Ministry of Electronics and IT asked WhatsApp to come out with more effective solutions that can bring in accountability and facilitate enforcement of law in addition to their efforts towards labelling forwards and identifying fake news.
To tackle the spread of false information, WhatsApp has limited forward messaging to five chats in India.
WhatsApp informed the government that it is building a local team, including having an India head, and has introduced new features to let its users identify forwarded messages. WhatsApp has also restricted the number of forwards that can be done at a time.
Besides, the company is also running advocacy and education programme to help people spot fake news.
Last month, WhatsApp top executives, including COO Matthew Idema, met IT Secretary and other Indian government officials to outline various steps being taken by the company to tackle fake news in India.