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IT Minister says WhatsApp can't evade responsibility for messages its users send
05 July 2018 IST
IT Minister says WhatsApp can

In a three page letter Brian Hennessy, Director and Associate General Counsel for WhatsApp said," it (WhatsApp) is "horrified" by the "terrible acts of violence". The site which has its largest global presence in India outlined steps being taken to curb abuse of the messaging platform.


He stated, "we do have the ability to prevent spam, which includes some of the misinformation that can create mistrust and potentially violence. Because we cannot see the content of messages being sent over we block messages based on user reports and by the manner in which they are sent. We use machine learning to identify accounts by sending a high volume of messages (faster than any human could) and we are constantly working to improve our ability to stop unwanted automated messages."
Right after the receipt of the letter to convey the resolve of the Government minister for information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad told India Today that, "India is emerging as a big digital power. WhatsApp has the largest following in India. We welcome them in India's digital story. But they must remain vigilant and responsible and accountable."
Prasad who had met his officials from the ministry to discuss the next step said, "If they have created a platform they are equally responsible for the misuse. They cannot evade responsibly and accountability for the messages, particularly those which are leading to killings." Prasad appreciated the site for its prompt response but added, "WhatsApp needs to monitor and stay alert to mass circulation of messages on a particular day, state and area and subject. It needs to use technology. This is not rocket science which cannot be mitigated with the use of tech."
He informed that WhatsApp has already launched a setting that would empower the administrators WhatsApp groups to decide who sends a message (in that group). But the government is not satisfied. It has data that while WhatsApp messages can be highly viral, and this can be done with great amount of privacy.
WhatsApp data shows that empowering WhatsApp group admins may not remedy the problem as 25 per cent in India are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than ten people), and nine in ten messages are still sent from just one person to another. That's why the IT & law minister emphasised that the monitoring groups won't work and the platform would have to check large volumes of individual to individual messages flowing at the same time on an issue.
The government at the centre and states, however, seems to be waking up to a new 21st century challenge in which malicious content could reach lakhs in seconds leading to unrest which can be far from the origin of the content-a phenomena which can be decided by motivated groups and unleashed at a time and place of their choosing. The instances of mob lynching a triggered by malicious videos and fake news are a clearest indicator that the local police systems lack the capability to even identify that the problem exists
However, the government is mounting pressure on popular social platforms to create better filters and monitoring mechanism against content that an incite and perpetrate trouble. Earlier in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data leak story Facebook was forced to issue an apology for its platform being used illegally to siphons data of nearly 3.6 lakh Indians
The stern warning by the information technology pushed WhatsApp to respond with uncustomary promptness.
In its response to the IT ministry's missive, WhatsApp said, "false news, misinformation and spread of hoaxes are issues that need to be dealt with collectively, by government, civil society and technology companies working together."
The Facebook-owned company has listed out steps initiate taken to curb spread of misinformation or manipulated mischievous information. The messaging service stated it would give users more control and information to stay safe. WhatsApp said, "Our strategy has been twofold: First, to give people the controls and information they need to stay safe; and Second, to work proactively to prevent misuse on WhatsApp."


WhatsApp revealed that it has recently made a number of changes to group chats to prevent the spread of unwanted information, in a significant move WhatsApp last week launched a new setting that enables administrators to decide who gets to send messages within individual groups. This according to Hennessy would help reduce the spread of unwanted messages into important group conversations - as well as the forwarding of hoaxes and other content.
WhatsApp has been testing a new label in India that highlights when a message has been forwarded versus composed by the sender. The idea is to create a signal to the recipients to think twice before forwarding messages because it lets a user know if the content they received was written by the person they know or a potential rumour from someone else.
On Monday WhatsApp announced a new project to work with leading academic experts in India to learn more about the spread of misinformation, which it feels would help inform additional product improvements going forward - as well as help its efforts to block bad actors going forward.
WhatsApp claims its working hard to educate people about how to spot fake news and hoaxes. The platform is tying up with fact checking organizations to identify rumors and false news - and respond to them - using WhatsApp.
During the recent Presidential election in Mexico, WhatsApp worked closely with the news consortiums. Users sent thousands of rumors to the consortiums WhatsApp account and in turn, were provided regular updates on what was accurate and what was false. This could be emulated in India too as during the elections the digital highways are flooded with fake and malicious content.


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Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST

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