India’s government has asked WhatsApp to take urgent steps to prevent the spread of rumours following a series of deadly mob attacks.
At least 20 people have been killed in mostly rural villages across India in lynchings instigated by false information distributed on WhatsApp.
The victims were innocent people accused of belonging to gangs trying to abduct children.
India’s ministry of electronics and IT (MEITY) said WhatsApp “cannot evade accountability and responsibility” after the killings were linked to “irresponsible and explosive messages” circulating on its platform.
“Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the (sic) WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken,” the ministry said in a statement.
Abuse of services such as WhatsApp “for repeated circulation of such provocative content” was a matter of deep concern, the ministry added.
Last week, a woman was killed and dozens hurt in the mob attacks after a false rumour was spread on WhatsApp that child abductors were at large.
Around 100 people attacked the victim and three other women in Ahmedabad, a city in the state of Gujarat.
Police spokesman JA Rathwa said: “Half a dozen people surrounded the women as they were about to board an autorickshaw and started questioning them.
“Soon the crowd swelled and pulled Shantadevi Nath and her companions out of the rickshaw and started thrashing them.”
The killings of innocent people have also occurred in states like Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and West Bengal.
At least 16 mob lynchings have been reported since May.
WhatsApp has begun to take evasive action, announcing that it has commissioned a set of global awards for research studying the spread of misinformation.
“Through this new project, we look forward to working with leading academic experts in India to learn more about how online platforms are used to spread misinformation,” it said in a statement.
“This local research will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education to help people spot false news and hoaxes.”
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in India with over 200 million active users.