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‘Horrified' by terrible acts of violence, testing new feature to check spread of ‘rumour’: WhatsApp tells govt

In a letter to MEITY, the WhatsAPP said that this is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together.

Edited by: India TV News Desk, New Delhi [ Updated: July 04, 2018 16:27 IST ]
Testing new feature to check spread of ‘rumour’, says

Testing new feature to check spread of ‘rumour’, says WhatsAPP

Responding to the concerns raised by the Government of India over the misuse of its platform for spreading rumours leading to mob lynchings in different parts of the country, WhatsApp on Wednesday told the government that the company is horrified by terrible acts of violence.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) had asked Facebook-owned WhatsApp to ensure that the platform is not used for spreading irresponsible messages filled with rumours and provocation.

In a letter to MEITY, the WhatsAPP said that this is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together.

"Thank you for your letter dated July 2. Like the Government of India, we're horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised. We believe this is a challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together," WhatsApp said in the letter. 

WhatsApp which has over 200 million monthly active users in India, listed a number of measures it has taken in the recent past to control the spread of misinformation and abuse on its platform.

"We have been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. 

"This could serve as an important signal for recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumor from someone else. We plan to launch this new feature soon," the company informed. 

According to media reports, over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by lynch mobs after rumours of child lifting triggered via messages on WhatsApp. 

In Mid-May, said WhatsApp, it added new protections to prevent people from adding others back into groups which they had left -- a form of misuse we think it is important to correct. 

"Last week, we launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups. This will help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations - as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content," the popular messaging platform noted.

WhatsApp has also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation.

"The fact-checking organisation Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published some reports on the source of the rumours that have contributed to the recent violence," the company said.

While WhatsApp messages can be highly viral, the way people use the app is by nature still very private. 

"Many people (nearly 25 per cent in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than 10 people); and nine in 10 messages are still sent from just one person to another," WhatsApp informed. 

The company also asked to Indian government to talk further about the actions it is taking and its plans going forward. 

"With the right action we can help improve everyone's safety by ensuring communities are better equipped to deal with malicious hoaxes and false information -- while still enabling people to communicate reliably and privately across India," it noted.

WhatsApp also announced to soon start an engagement programme with the law enforcement officials across the country so "they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful".

(With IANS inputs)

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