WhatsApp acts after fake messages spark mob lynchings in India

WhatsApp has assured the Indian government that steps are being taken to stop the spread of fake messages and hoaxes on child kidnappers, thieves and sexual predators on its platform.

Such rumours are believed to have sparked mob lynchings across India leaving at least 20 dead, most of them migrant workers or beggars, in the past two months.

Responding to the government’s letter demanding immediate action, WhatsApp said changes have been introduced in the app to reduce the spread of unwanted messages.

The company said it would shortly launch a new label in India to help users identify messages that had been forwarded to them as opposed to those written by someone they know.

The spread of fake news and hoaxes leading to such deadly incidents should be collectively tackled by the government, civil society and technology companies, the company said.

WhatsApp said it plans to run a public safety campaign in India. With more than 200 million users, India is its biggest market.

Rumours on WhatsApp about child kidnappers and sexual predators led to mob attacks that left 23 killed and dozens injured in 11 states recently. An official who was expected to lead an awareness campaign against such fake messages and hoaxes was also killed in north-east Tripura last week.