Free Press Journal

WhatsApp Controversy: Social media app caught in lynching storm


Social media is a very powerful tool and it can both work in positive and negative ways. Today, WhatsApp messenger application has become a necessary tool for everybody for communication, however, a negative aspect of this social media application has now come out, which has become a new controversy in our country.

This controversy relates to spread of violence over the country due to the circulation of fake information, rumours and provocative texts through WhatsApp. These have reportedly led to a series of incidents of lynching and mob beatings across the country. The most notable misinformation is regarding child abductors, which is being circulated among WhatsApp users. This has allegedly led to many incidents of lynching of people leading to their death.

The most recent incident involved deadly mob lynching of five men from Maharashtra on Sunday. In Dhule, five youths were beaten to death by a group of villagers on the suspicion of being child traffickers. Later, it was revealed that these youths belonged to tribal community who move from place to place in search of food and work.

Earlier, a similar incident occurred in Chennai when two men working for metro railways were thrashed by a group of people on the suspicion of being child lifters. In another shocker in Tripura, two people were lynched and six others thrashed. According to reports, over the past year, 31 people have been killed in over 10 states on the suspicion of them being child abductors.

Acting upon the situation, Indian government has asked WhatsApp administration to stop the spread of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation. In a statement, the ministry of electronics and IT said on Tuesday, instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp. The unfortunate killing in many states such as Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and west Bengals are deeply painful and regrettable.

“While the law and order machinery is taking steps to apprehend the culprits, the abuse of platform like WhatsApp for repeated circulation of such provocative content are equally a matter of deep concern,” the statement further said.

“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 government has also directed that spread of such messages should be immediately contained through the application of appropriate technology,” the statement added.

In response, the spokesperson of the Facebook-owned messaging platform said that they will take necessary steps to combat the spread of misinformation due to WhatsApp. “WhatsApp cares deeply about people’s safety and their ability to freely communicate. We don’t want our services to be used for spreading harmful misinformation and believe this is a challenge that companies and societies should address,” WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

In a detailed response sent to the IT ministry, WhatsApp has listed out the various measures being undertaken by the platform to curb spread of false news and misinformation. These include product controls, digital literacy, fact checking advocacy and proactive actions to tackle abuse.