After a spate of lynchings in India, the popular communication platform, WhatsApp, has decided to severely limit services in the country. According to BBC News, the decision comes after it was discovered that several mob lynchings “were linked to messages that circulated on WhatsApp groups.”
WhatsApp had been silent about the usage of their app for violent intent. The Indian government threatened the company with legal action earlier this week if they didn’t take action. The company then announced that it would “limit how many times messages can be forwarded in India, to curb the spread of false information on its platform.”
India is the platform’s largest market by far – there are over 200 million users in the country alone. And those users are quite active; the company has stated that users in India are responsible for more “forward[ed] messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world.”
WhatsApp is a relatively new messaging app. It first rolled out on the Android platform late last year and just recently allowed iPhone users to download the app. It’s owned by Facebook, and it allows for “fast, simple, secure messaging and calling for free, available on phones all over the world,” according to the WhatsApp website. The platform also works on PCs, Macs, and Windows phones. The app allows people to chat one on one or in groups – the platform has the capacity for a group as large as 256 people.
The messages that reportedly triggered the lynchings were forwarded in group chats that had more than 100 people. Though the company plans to place a limit on the amount of forwarding that all users can do, the crackdown is expected to affect Indian users even more.
“A single person would be able to forward one message only five times,” said a spokesperson for WhatsApp.
There have been more than two dozen lynchings in the country since April alone, according to Al Jazeera. The cause of the violence is reportedly rumors of child kidnappings and other various crimes.
“The kind of fake news being spread through these platforms is scary and is getting out of control. “Police are being called to put out these fires but it’s is the platform which is letting fires spread in the first place. The police have been struggling to prevent these rumors from spreading,” said Prakash Singh, a former police officer and the current chairman of the Police Foundation of India.
As BBC News reports, one of the victims was a person who had been elected to travel to local villages in the Tripura area and “dispel rumors being spread on social media.”
In addition to limiting the number of times a message could be forwarded, WhatsApp has also added the ability for people to block other users easier and the ability to leave groups altogether.