Ravi Shankar Prasad On How WhatsApp Can Help Curb Rumours

Over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by mobs after rumours of child lifting, thieves and sexual predators triggered by false rumours shared on the popular smartphone messaging service.

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Ravi Shankar Prasad stressed on need for messaging platform, WhatsApp, to work with Indian authorities

NEW DELHI: 

WhatsApp, the messaging platform used to spread rumours that led to mob violence, should quickly create a mechanism to flag messages that are repeatedly shared on the platform in a particular part of the country, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the union information technology minister has said.

"It is not that we want to read anyone's messages. But if in one or two parts of country, lakhs of messages are being transmitted, then something is wrong," Mr Prasad told NDTV.

"This needs to be resolved," he said.

In such cases, the minister who stressed on the need for WhatsApp to work with the authorities, the messaging platform could put a system in place that identifies messages being sent and alerts the police about them.

Over 30 people have been killed in the past one year by mobs after rumours of child lifting, thieves and sexual predators triggered by false rumours shared on the popular smartphone messaging service.

After five men were bludgeoned to death by a crazed mob in Maharashtra after rumours that they were child lifters, the centre conveyed its deep disapproval and told the senior management of WhatsApp to take "immediate action" over the "irresponsible and explosive messages".

Mr Prasad told reporters that he had received a prompt reply. The company is reported to have spoken about its plans to create a label for forwarded message.

"They have also assured that WhatsApp will use machine learning to identify mass circulation of messages on its platform," Mr Prasad said.

With more than 200 million users, India is WhatsApp's biggest market. Its parent company Facebook has also been grappling with a global data privacy scandal.

"While we welcome them completely in India's digital story and also making a commercial success of it, they must remain accountable, responsible and vigilant," he said, referring to the three popular social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

In its response to the centre, WhatsApp said it "cares deeply about people's safety" and had taken steps to combat the scourge of fake news and hoaxes.

The company said it was working with Indian researchers to better understand the problem and had introduced changes it said would reduce the spread of unwanted messages.

It would also soon launch a new label in India to help users identify messages that had been forwarded as opposed to written by someone they know.

WhatsApp has said it planned to run a public safety campaign in India "given its importance" to the company, and mentioned efforts by police to use its platform to raise awareness about its misuse.

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