After an unfortunate series of mob lynchings in the country, WhatsApp has now changed its policies on message forwarding. It outlined its plans in a blog post:
“Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding that will apply to everyone using WhatsApp. In India – where people forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world – we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages. We believe that these changes – which we’ll continue to evaluate – will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app.”
These changes come in the wake of an unfortunate series of mob lynching, perpetrated on the basis of fake reports. The medium that these reports were circulated on was WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned private messaging service that has 1.5 billion active users monthly, 200 million of them come from India.
The ongoing case of mob lynchings in India on the basis of a message that forms the victim as a child kidnapper shows us just how real the impact of mob mentality can be. In this case, the attackers who got the messages were often in WhatsApp groups, which sometimes had more than 100 participants in them. Soon, violent mobs began lynching people suspecting them of being child abductors and at least 17 have been reported dead following the various incidents.
The Indian Government stepped in and demanded Facebook and WhatsApp respond to the situation telling the company they “cannot evade accountability and responsibility” and “to take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such malafide activities.”
While the social messaging platform is to blame here, the real problem stems from the herd mentality of the masses, waiting for a trigger to set them off. As per Bloomberg, 2000 people attacked four IT professionals in Karnataka, beating them to the death because they suspected them of being child kidnappers. The worst of it as per this report, are people being lynched under suspicion of killing cows. Is WhatsApp truly to blame here or our propensity to act on messages we deem trustworthy just because they were forwarded by friends or family.
India isn’t the only country where this has been happening though, in Sri Lanka, riots broke out between the Buddhist and Muslim community and in Mexico, many were lynched on suspicion of snatching organs. The vitriol for these heinous acts were incendiary messages on WhatsApp.
If nothing else, these cases feel like cruel jokes orchestrated at the expense of individuals who have lost their lives or worse, living down the trauma of being labeled criminals and nearly beaten to death. For WhatsApp, it’s a real scare, especially when parent company Facebook is living down accusations of influencing presidential elections. Their service will now be seen as a potential assassination tool, all the would-be killers need, is a pissed off mob.
If you think about it, this isn’t the first time India has seen mindless gang violence, the only that’s changed is the means.