Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for law and information technology, said the government has got ‘good response’ from WhatsApp for its proposal to install a monitoring mechanism on the platform.
The government has been pushing WhatsApp to put up a monitoring mechanism that would send out alerts when messages on any one subject starts going viral. WhatsApp has typically refused to do any such thing, citing concerns around users’ privacy and the potential for abuse.
“It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that lakhs of messages are being exchanged on a particular subject on the same day in the same area and in the same district,” Prasad said in an interview with News18.
“They have to act. I have given them a notice and they have spoken of a particular modification… We respect the freedom of expression. We are a digital market and you are welcome. But if your platform is being misused to encourage crime, it won’t be good. We will act, and your responsibility will also be fixed. They are giving a good response,” he said.
“They have said that they are making changes. But more changes are needed. We will be as strict as required,” he added.
The comments come in the context of vigilantes using WhatsApp and Facebook to spread rumors and organize violence in the name of protecting cows from slaughter and children from kidnapping.
Prasad also said social media networks like Facebook have been warned against ‘interfering in the Indian elections’, besides the issue of crime and lynchings.
“I have told them two things. If you try to influence the Indian elections, then we will not accept it.. It is one thing for people to put up their opinion and campaign (on social media).. Secondly, if you promote crime via social media, that too is not acceptable,” he said.
However, he said the issue of lynching of people in the name of cow protection should be seen in the right context.
“People should be respected in India. But we also respect the cows. There has to be a balance and coordination,” he said.
Prasad also said there was a need to protect the cows just like there was a need to protect the Bengal tiger, which is on the verge of extinction due to habitat destruction. India has managed to increase its tiger population from around 1,400 in 20016 to about 4,000 at present as a result of strenuous efforts.
“Today, everyone wants to do everything possible to save the tiger, but when someone talks of saving the cows, there is criticism. This is not right. Such an attitude creates a lot of problems.”