India’s government is looking at ways to block social media services including WhatsApp in extreme scenarios, as concerns grow around the role such platforms play in public disorder.
The Economic Times (ET) reported the government expressed “serious reservations” over Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s response to its queries on how the messaging service was used to mobilise lynch mobs across the country.
ET said the Department of Telecom (DoT) is seeking industry views on possible technical measures to block WhatsApp and other social media under its IT regulation.
Section 69A of India’s IT Act authorises the government to issue directions to block information on the internet in the name of the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of the country and security of the state.
The DoT requested views from telecoms operators, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), Cellular Operators Assocation of India and other associations on the steps it can take.
Not doing enough
Concerns were first raised after a dozen people were killed in India as a result of violence incited by fake news spread on WhatsApp, related to issues including organ harvesting and child trafficking.
In response to the killings in India, WhatsApp representative Carl Woog said it was working to “reduce the spread of unwanted messages in private chats”.
WhatsApp last month imposed a global limit on the number of groups a message can be forwarded to 20, while reducing the number even further for the Indian market to five. The company also added labels to show when a message had been forwarded and took out advertisements in Indian newspapers to raise awareness about the spread of fake news.
However, the Indian government believes the company is not doing enough and, following questioning, an IT ministry official said WhatsApp did not commit itself on “traceability and attribution of messages”, which is its key requirement.
The IT ministry believes WhatsApp must be held accountable for abuse of its platform and has a duty to find originators of provocative messages. The government is also reportedly building a dedicated team to monitor fake news.