Modi govt must punish lynch mobs, not coerce WhatsApp into curbing users’ freedoms

WhatsApp is doing a lot of things in response to the union government: tagging forwarded messages as such, testing “a lower limit of five chats at once”, removing “the quick forward button next to media messages”, and promoting digital literacy. It also plans to introduce its “fake news verification model” in India ahead of the coming general elections in 2019. It has also announced a public competition to identify solutions on how to counter the spread of mala fide information.

Yet, in the absence of any measures of its own to deter and punish violent lynch mobs, the government’s determination to move against one specific channel of communication could well end up as a wild goose chase.

Conceptually, laying all the blame at WhatsApp’s door is a lot like blaming bus service operators for allowing criminals to ride to the scene of the crime. Not that the bus operator has no role to play in preventing the crime; but that it is not solely or primarily the bus operator’s fault that criminals ride their buses to work.

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