Deadly Lynchings Across India Blamed On Viral ‘Fake News’ Reports

WhatsApp said it would take steps to curb the spread of so-called fake news following a series of deadly lynchings across India. Mobs attacked individuals who, in videos spread on the instant messaging platform, were falsely accused of child kidnapping and other crimes.

The move comes after Indian authorities warned WhatsApp that it needed to take stronger measures to prevent users from spreading false information and malicious rumors via the service. “It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” India’s Information Technology ministry said in a statement.

WhatsApp is one of India’s most widely used social media apps, with more than 200 million users.

Revenge-motivated lynchings, sparked by fake stories on WhatsApp, have claimed the lives of 20 people in India in the past 2 months. The victims include Mohammad Azam, 32. The Hyderabad-based IT professional, who worked for Accenture, was killed while traveling to Karnataka’s Bidar district. 2 other individuals traveling with Azam were seriously injured.

In a July 19 blog post that did not mention the killings directly, Snapchat announced a series of measures to “keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app.” The measures include limiting simultaneous chats to five users and removing the “Quick Forward” button next to messages.

It will also add a feature that makes it easier for users to determine a message’s origin.

WhatsApp said its Indian users forward more messages, photos and videos than their counterparts in any other country. “WhatsApp cares deeply about your safety. We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded,” the company said.

WhatsApp is also working with Indian authorities to find ways to prevent its platform from being used to spread fake news ahead of the 2019 national elections.

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