WhatsApp has been in news in India in the context of its use in spreading “Fake News” and causing “Lynchings”. There has been some harsh words already spoken of by the Ministry and blaming WhatsApp for some of the lynchings and it appears that WhatsApp is trying to respond to the concerns also.
We understand that WhatsApp is making some changes to its software first to distinguish a “Forwarded Post” with a suitable tag and then to restrict the forwards to five at a time. It has also enabled disablement of “Posts by all” and an option to restrict it only to the admins.
We must understand that WhatsApp is a closed group communication and the postings are meant for the members of a specific group. It is only when some member makes a forward to another group that the message spreads.
The Lynchings are a different problem. It may arise either out of true news or fake news and it may be spread either through WhatsApp or other means. It is not correct to link the lynchings to WhatsApp.
It is our considered opinion that many of the lynchings that have happened in recent days indicate that lynchings were planned first as a means to disturb the community peace and the WhatsApp message was only an excuse or even a plant. The Police might have failed to trace the origin of some of these messages but they have succeeded in some cases. A deeper research is called for to find out if there is any political conspiracy to use WhatsApp as an excuse to spread hatred and cause violence in the society.
It is fine that WhatsApp might have taken cognizance of some of the concerns and tried to bring about some changes in the software. This should help mitigate the risk of misuse though the larger solution lies in better public awareness that “All Messages are not necessarily true” and “Some Messages are maliciously implanted by anti social elements”.
However, I would like to point out a different aspect of a data protection related issue in WhatsAPP and bring it to the attention of WhatsApp authorities which could land WhatsApp is deep trouble.
Just as Google was slapped with a $5 billion fine, EU authorities may be waiting to slap another fat fine on WhatsApp and enrich themselves if WhatsApp does not immediately take some remedial action.
I have brought this to the notice of WhatsApp through their support e-mail and am waiting for them to respond if they have a view. After giving them some time to respond, I will share the issue in the public platform.