India's government says it has asked WhatsApp to take "immediate action" to prevent the social media platform from being misused to spread rumors and irresponsible statements like those blamed for recent deadly mob attacks in the country. At least 20 people have been killed in mostly rural villages in several Indian states in attacks by mobs that had been inflamed by social media. Victims were accused in the viral messages of belonging to gangs trying to abduct children. The brutal attacks, which began in early May, have also left dozens of people injured. Although Indian authorities have clarified that there was no truth to the rumors and the targeted people were innocent, the deadly and brutal attacks, often captured on cellphones and shared on social media, have spread across the country.
India's ministry of electronics and information technology said in a statement late Tuesday that the lynchings were tied to "irresponsible and explosive messages" circulated on WhatsApp. It wasn't specific on the preventative measures it expected to be taken by WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. WhatsApp said in a blog post that it would institute awards for research on "spread of misinformation" on its platform. The Indian Express, an English-language daily newspaper, quoted a WhatsApp spokesman as saying, "The situation is a public health problem which will require solutions from outside the company as well, including the government."
The official said that the "responsibility is beyond any one technology company" and "requires partners," according to the paper. "I think it's up to the Indian government to decide what is the right mechanism to address the spate of killing that is occurring. It is going to have to be a collaboration," the official said.