Around a dozen people have been killed in India since May as a result of violence incited by fake news spread on WhatsApp related to issues including organ harvesting and child trafficking.
Citizens have attacked and beaten to death innocent people who they thought were responsible for such crimes due to messages sent on WhatsApp. Officials are trying to come up with as strategy to curb the violence, The Washington Post (WP) reported.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market and particularly prone to fake news as 200 million people, many of them in villages using phones for the first time, send billions of messages on the app each day.
One of the ways local authorities are dealing with the problem is hiring people to visit villages to spread awareness about fake news. However, one such person was also killed by a mob.
“We are trying to counter the misinformation by aggressive campaigning on social media, WhatsApp and local TV channels. We want to convey the message that all rumours are false and they [citizens] should not fall prey to them,” M Ramkumar, a superintendent of police in a district in western India where five beggars were mistaken for child kidnappers and killed by villagers, told WP.
WhatsApp representative Carl Woog told the publication the company is “working to make it clear when users have received forwarded information and provide controls to group administrators to reduce the spread of unwanted messages in private chats”.
“We’ve also seen people use WhatsApp to fight misinformation, including the police in India, news organisations and fact checkers. We are working with a number of organisations to step up our education efforts so that people know how to spot fake news and hoaxes circulating online.”
Meanwhile, Google announced in June it is expanding a programme for journalists in India to train reporters to spot fake news.
WhatsApp recently launched a new group setting where only admins are able to send messages to a group.
“One way people use groups is to receive important announcements and information, including parents and teachers at schools, community centres, and non-profit organisations. We’ve introduced this new setting so admins can have better tools for these use cases,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
In May the company announced group admins can restrict who can change the group’s subject, icon and description.