whatsapp

Is WhatsApp Really to Blame For More Than 40 Deaths in India?

whatsappAt least 29 people have been killed in India since May.  Maybe that number doesn’t seem overly high considering the size and population of India, but you might be horrified to know that these people are being killed in lynchings.  People are being lynched by mobs who believed that they were kidnappers, because of messages that were spread through services like WhatsApp. Before I get into this too much further, I want to say how horrible I think this is.  We all know that it’s easy to spread lies over social media. Since Donald Trump was elected, the proliferation of fake news is incredible.  And I don’t mean that in a good way.  Which leads me to wonder if these messages are accurate?As I said, the lynchings are occurring because people think that they are kidnappers.  The most recent incident saw five agricultural workers killed by a mob of 40 people.  What might be worse is that more than 3,000 people looked on. Not only that but last week three people were tasked by the government to help dispel the rumors.  And what happened with that?  Well, one of them was killed.  Unfortunately, the Indian government is at a loss to help rectify this situation.  Because they’re not able to stop the lynchings, they’re pivoting and placing the blame one WhatsApp.

whatsapp fake news
Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Yesterday, the Ministry of Electronics and IT called on WhatsApp to “immediately contain the spread of such messages through the application of appropriate technology”.  What does that even mean?  Is WhatsApp enabling these lynchings?  Or are they merely a platform by which bad things are happening?  Don’t get me wrong – WhatsApp should do something.  If they can.  If it’s just a matter of an angry group of people, then what can they do?   And that’s sort of what’s happening.  This is a misguided approach, which amplifies the ministry’s lack of understanding about how technology works.Let’s take a step back for a moment though.  Why are these lynchings only happening in India?  Sure, you could make the argument that the Cambridge Analytica scandal only happened in the United States.  But that would imply that WhatsApp has something more to do with the lynchings.  And I would say – to what end?  The BBC has revealed that a child safety advertisement from Pakistan was edited and spread along with information across the country. You can see that clip here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YegEun8lzZ4And now, people are getting really upset and as a result – killing people.  The police in India are claiming that they’ve been working for weeks in order to stop this rumor from making the rounds, but those efforts don’t have much of an effect.  In fact, the misinformation is not only fueling paranoia, but it’s causing people to take matters into their own hands – hence the lynchings.whatsappHow is WhatsApp involved?  Unfortunately, they’re just the platform by which the information is spreading.  The same way that Facebook spread fake news during the 2016 presidential election.  Well, actually, it’s not the same.  In fact, WhatsApp hasn’t done anything wrong.  People are using it to spread information about these alleged kidnappers.  It’s making people angry and that’s when the lynchings occur.  Unfortunately, innocent people are losing their lives because of it.  The police and the government need to do more to stop it – instead of blaming technology.

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