In a horrific incident, last Sunday a mob in Maharashtra lynched 5 people who belonged to a nomad community, and killed them. After this, the policemen who were trying to save the people, were also beaten. Police has registered a case and has arrested 23 people. In fact, more than 20 people have been lynched to death by furious mobs across the country, since May this year, on the excuse of those killed, being suspected of child lifting.
Widespread rumors of child lifters roaming around, that have been circulated through WhatsApp, have been cited as the primary reason for these lynchings, by investigative agencies, in almost all the cases. Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) on Tuesday, warned WhatsApp saying it cannot “evade accountability and responsibility” for messages which cause such lynchings, and it must “take immediate action to end this menace.”
The ministry stated: “The abuse of WhatsApp for repeated circulation of such provocative content are equally a matter of deep concern. Deep disapproval of such developments has been conveyed to the senior management of the WhatsApp and they have been advised that necessary remedial measures should be taken to prevent proliferation of these fake and at times motivated/sensational messages.”
Replying to the ministry, WhatsApp stated that it is “horrified by these terrible acts of violence”. It also said, that “false news, misinformation and spread of hoaxes are issues best tackled collectively, by government, civil society and technology companies working together.” However, it also said, that messages shared in groups can become “highly viral” as a group can have 256 members. Also, they are ‘encrypted’, hence difficult to keep a check upon.
However, reliable sources within the government and investigative agencies, have also suspected and pointed towards the possible role of a ‘hostile neighboring country’, in spreading these rumors about ‘child lifters’, to cause violence and subsequent ‘chaos’. Police departments across various states have begun to tackle the situation by starting their WhatsApp accounts. In Tripura, the administration has hired people as ‘announcers’.
They have been ordered to go to every village with loudspeakers, and ask people not to believe such WhatsApp rumors, as 3 people were killed in the state last week. In fact, one of them was a person, who was hired as an announcer. Internet services had to be shutdown for 48 hours to stop the spread of violence. Also, WhatsApp has added a new feature that allows administrators to control which member can post in their group.
The company is also testing a feature to tag ‘forwarded messages’, and plans to sit with administration and law enforcement agencies of central and state governments, to devise a detailed strategy, in order to deal with the situation effectively. It is being suspected, that in the coming days, such rumors could intensify, with elections coming up in various states and centre. The Youth appeals to the people, not to believe such rumors.