India tells WhatsApp to add filters, ASAP

Riots and murder have followed fake news and 'provocation'

India has warned Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to do something about abuse of its service that has led to murders.

A July 3rd statement from the nation’s Ministry of Electronics & IT says “Instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because of large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp.”

“Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken to prevent proliferation of these fake and at times motivated/sensational messages,” the statement adds. “The Government has also directed that spread of such messages should be immediately contained through the application of appropriate technology.”

The statement points out that rumours aren’t WhatsApp’s fault, saying the service has been “abused by some miscreants who resort to provocative messages which lead to spread of violence.”

But the nation’s government isn’t letting the platform off easily as the statement ends as follows:

The Government has also conveyed in no uncertain terms that WhatsApp must take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such malafide activities.

WhatsApp’s silent on the matter, so far as The Register can tell. And with US independence day upon us, we don’t expect any response from the service.

India’s ire is not unique and nor is it alone in dealing with violence sparked by information transmitted on Facebook: The New York Times has detailed how false rumours have spread in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, again sparking murderous violence. The Times explained that Facebook simply didn’t have enough local-language moderators to remove false information.

Facebook can throw money at that problem. WhatsApp can’t: groups on the service are moderated by members and messages are encrypted. Just how India expects the service to filter messages is therefore uncertain.

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What is certain is that governments around the world are increasingly demanding that online communications services clean up their acts to stop the spread of hate speech and fake news, and open up their messaging platforms to ease law enforcement authorities’ investigations into the operation of terror networks.

To date, no online services have publicly acquiesced to those demands. Apple has even hardened its devices to make them harder to probe.

But laws are coming to force online services companies to change their ways: The UK, USA, EU and Australia have all called for and/or are drafting “not-backdoors” laws that will insist on access to encrypted communications. ®

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