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New Delhi Correspondent
India has issued a new warning to messaging platform WhatsApp that the mediums used for spreading rumours, which led to mob fury and lynching of 31 people across India in the last one year, are liable to be treated as ‘abettors’ and can face legal consequences if they remain “mute spectators”.
The government also asked the Whatsapp to come out with effective solutions to curb the menace of fake news beyond just labelling forwards. Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been under pressure from the Indian government over fake news and false information being circulated on its messaging platform.
The government had in the past too issued a stern warning to the company to clamp down on hoax messages designed to “provoke” and “instigate” people.
“When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action,” the Indian Information Technology Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. The Ministry said it has approached WhatsApp to bring more effective solutions to the table, to ensure greater “accountability and facilitate enforcement of law” beyond the existing efforts towards labelling forwards and identifying fake news.

“It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” the ministry said.

Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had earlier told WhatsApp that the platform “cannot evade accountability and responsibility”.

In response, WhatsApp announced a new feature to let its users identify the messages that are forwarded.
WhatsApp had informed the Indian government that 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 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.

Rumours on WhatsApp sparked off a spate mob lynching including an incident in which five men were killed on suspicion of being child traffickers in western Indian state Maharashtra. Recently, a man was beaten to death, while three others were injured after a mob attacked them suspecting them to be child-traffickers in southern state of Karnataka.

The Supreme Court, earlier this week, 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. Ends