Following a spate of Fake news on Whatsapp, 18 people have been killed across India, in the states of Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura and West Bengal.
According to news sources, the fake news spread through Facebook's Whatsapp relating to grim issues of child-trafficking rings and organ harvesting which has triggered the violent attacks, resulting in people resorting to vigilante justice — attacking and beating to death people who were supposedly not even involved.
A vast majority of the perpetrators are villagers, many of whom could be first time smartphone users.
The government has deemed the incidents of "repeated circulation of such provocative content" as "deeply painful and regrettable" and a matter of deep concern.
In Tripura, three people were killed last week after the violence broke fueled by the death of an 11-year-old boy on June 26, as a rumor of a supposed victim of organ harvesters was triggered by Ratan Lal Nath, a leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, who, according to news sources, showed up at the boy’s home to falsely allege that his kidney had been cut from his body by organ traffickers.
"We are trying to counter the misinformation by aggressive campaigning on social media, WhatsApp and local TV channels," said M. Ramkumar, superintendent of police in Dhule, a district in western India, according to the Washington Post.
The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to take measures to curb fake news.
On Tuesday, India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Tuesday asked Whatsapp to get a grip on fake news and take "immediate action to end this menace," pointing out the company can't evade "accountability and responsibility" if its users spread false information.
Responding to the Indian government, WhatsApp messenger has told India that it would need the support of other sectors, tech firms, civil society and the government to curb the spread of false messages through its platform.
"We’ve also seen people use WhatsApp to fight misinformation, including the police in India, news organizations and fact-checkers. We are working with a number of organizations to step up our education efforts so that people know how to spot fake news and hoaxes circulating online."
In a July 3 letter, Whatsapp told India's IT ministry that it would give its people the necessary information and controls required to stay safe, and will also introduce changes to group chats to prevent the spread of unwanted information.
"WhatsApp is working to make it clear when users have received forwarded information and provide controls to group administrators to reduce the spread of unwanted messages in private chats,” said a spokesman for WhatsApp, Carl Woog.
Whatsapp has pointed out that its harder to monitor the app as the messages are encrypted between users.
"The police are always going to be at a loss because the scale of WhatsApp usage is going to be difficult to contend with and they don’t have the manpower,” said Nikhil Pahwa, a technology expert. "The platform itself needs to evolve."