Fake news crackdown: Modi govt wants WhatsApp, Facebook to be responsible

WhatsApp (Photo: Shuttershock)
The government has said it expects popular social media applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook, which have large user bases in the country, to be responsible.


In a bid to check the spread of fake news through social media and messaging platforms — leading to mob lynching in some cases — the government is exploring the possibility of blocking WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram. The government is also trying to curb child abuse and pornography spread through these platforms.


The government has already issued notices on WhatsApp to keep a check on content. But, it is more concerned with Telegram, fast becoming the preferred medium for many people.


Sources said the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had expressed concerns about Telegram to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Based on the letter from MeitY, DoT had asked the telecom and internet service providers to provide inputs about blocking mobile apps.


Asked about the blocking of mobile apps, Information Technology (IT) Secretary Ajay P Sawhney said, “We are always in touch, and anytime we have a concern we flag it. We expect all platforms to behave in a responsible manner, especially those with a large user base.” He, however, said whenever the need arises, the government acts according to the IT Act in order to remove contentious content.


Sources told Business Standard it was very difficult for the government to ensure content had been blocked or taken down. In case of Telegram, which does not have a huge user base in India yet, the government wants to strengthen its enforcement mechanism.


Telegram claims its cloud chat data is stored in multiple data centres around the globe that are controlled by different legal entities spread across different jurisdictions. The relevant decryption keys are split into parts and are never kept in the same place as the data they protect. As a result, several court orders from different jurisdictions are required to force them to give up any data.


“Thanks to this structure, we can ensure no single government or block of like-minded countries can intrude on people’s privacy and freedom of expression,” Telegram explained on its website.


The instant messaging app, founded by Russian entrepreneurs Pavel and Nikolai Durov in 2013, has a feature to self-destruct the messages. Since the messages are encrypted as well, it becomes very difficult for law-enforcement agencies to probe their origins. WhatsApp also encrypts messages; it has told the government it will not disclose the origin of messages, as it undermined the privacy of citizens.


WhatsApp has informed the government of its efforts to build a local team on ground, including India. Sawhney said that the IT Ministry is “looking into” WhatsApps’ response.

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