New Delhi: WhatsApp today said its users in India will not be allowed to forward more than five chats at once and the company will remove the quick forward button that appears next to media messages, as part of its efforts to reduce circulation of fake messages on the platform that have even incited mob lynching incidents. In a blogpsot, WhatsApp noted that its users in India “forward more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world".
The Facebook-owned company has over 1 billion users globally, of which over 200 million are in India. “Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India... we’ll also test a lower limit of five chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages," the blogpost said.
WhatsApp has received flak from the government over fake news and false information being circulated on its messaging platform. Such messages have incited mob-fury, triggering multiple cases of lynching across the country.
Yesterday, the government shot off a second notice to WhatsApp asking it to come out with effective solutions to curb the menace of fake news beyond just labelling forwards. It also warned the company that mediums used for propagation of rumours are liable to be treated as ‘abettors’ and can face legal consequences if they remain “mute spectators".
While WhatsApp is yet to respond to the notice, the blogpost said the company believes that “these changes - which we’ll continue to evaluate - will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app".
“We built WhatsApp as a private messaging app - a simple, secure, and reliable way to communicate with friends and family. And as we’ve added new features, we’ve been careful to try and keep that feeling of intimacy, which people say they love," it said.
WhatsApp had introduced the option of forwarding multiple chats at once a few years ago, it added. “We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we’ll continue to improve our app with features like this one," the blog said.
WhatsApp had previously stated that it had launched new safety features, including a label that clearly identifies forwarded messages and controls for group conversations in the last few weeks. The messaging service also brought out full-page advertisement in leading newspapers, first in the series of its user awareness campaign, giving “easy tips" to decide if information received is indeed true.
It is also working with over half a dozen partners in India to design a digital literacy programme for educating users on spotting false news and staying safe on the popular messaging platform, which has come under fire for fake messages inciting mob lynching incidents.
In its response to the first notice by the Indian government, WhatsApp had said fake news, misinformation and hoaxes can be checked by the government, civil society and technology companies “working together".
Outlining steps it has taken to curb abuse of its platform, WhatsApp -- in its response sent earlier this month -- had said that it has the ability to prevent spam but since it cannot see the content of private messages, blocking can be done only based on user reports.
WhatsApp had also told the government that it is “horrified by these terrible acts of violence" and its strategy to deal with the situation involves giving people the controls and information they need to stay safe while working pro-actively to prevent misuse of the service.
Rumours on WhatsApp have sparked a spate of incidents involving mob fury, including one where five men were lynched on the suspicion of being child lifters in Maharashtra’s Rainpada village of Dhule district.
More recently, a man was beaten to death, while three others were injured after a mob attacked them suspecting them to be child-lifters, near Bidar in Karnataka.
The Supreme Court, too, has asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to effectively deal with incidents of mob lynching, saying “horrendous acts of mobocracy" cannot be allowed to become a new norm.