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Is WhatsApp to blame for failure in governance?

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Is WhatsApp to blame for failure in governance?
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As mob lynching rate increases day by day following the suspicions aroused by messages spread by Whatsapp, a messaging app, the Centre has decided to intervene in the matter. Maharashtra state government and the Centre, both led by BJP, woke up as five people were murdered in Dhule of Maharashtra on suspicions of kidnapping children. In the preceding days, three people were lynched in Tripura.

From May 20 to this day, 14 people fell victim to by the mob brutality across the states of Maharashtra, Tripura, Gujarat, Karnataka, Assam, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. The numbers of lynching carried out under the auspices of Sanghparivar cow vigilante goons are outside this count. . Innocent people who came in the market as palmists and street magicians were the victims of the murders. It was when fake news about child kidnappers roaming in and around Rainpada village of Dhule that the rumours first became speculation, then fear and then got ignited as anger among the locals.

Things reached such a pass that the mob killings which sent shockwaves at home and abroad alike led India to be portrayed as a savage nation. It is in that stage that the Centre has entered the picture against WhatsApp. The government has asked Facebook, owners of WhatsApp, to "stop the spread of such messages by applying appropriate technology". In the letter which condemned the mob lynchings of last month, it is alleged that the repetition of such provocative propaganda via WhatsApp paved way to such heinous acts. The Electronics and IT Ministry which expressed strong disapproval of the matter asked WhatsApp's senior management to take remedial measures. At the same time, even before receiving the letter from the Central Government, WhatsApp had taken seriously the use of its platform for mob killings, and sought the assistance of academic experts to find preventive action; and it also prepared a plan to make detailed App literacy available which could save people from fake news and rumours. They also informed the government about the current security steps they have taken including product control, digital literacy, fact checking, and advance mechanism to check misuse. WhatsApp also replied that those mechanisms could be used to prevent unwanted information, and those who exchange them and to limit group activity. But legal experts opine that even if an attempt is made to relax the confidentiality of WhatsApp by adding stringent provisions in IT Act of 2008, such law cannot be applied to them because the company does not have a data server within the country. And a law to prevent fake news is yet to emerge. Even if the government tries to enforce all of these, when one loophole is plugged, another platform will be opened - as proved by the advances of social media, day by day. Therefore what the government has to do is not to rein in social media, but tighten laws against those who vitiate it.

The endeavour to avert fake news, as WhatsApp pointed out in its response, is to be made jointly by the government, civil society and technology institutions. It is for the government to deal with those who forge fake news and those who take law into their hands by using that as a pretext and those who disturb law and order. It is not only that central and state governments are not doing anything in the matter, but even that they often give room for hooligans to run amok and weave justification for them too. In Dhule, there was no police intervention until eight persons were dragged to the panchayat office premises and five of them beaten to death. This was what happened in all the places where the mob took law into their hands, as was proved by the viral video of Hapur in which the police was seen giving escort to the cow vigilante gangs. In fact, the practice of shooting videos of lethal lynching and circulating them via social media was initiated by the workers of Sangh parivar workers. That was followed by state ministers including the chief minister coming out in support of them. The Centre does not come forward to correct or control them. The prime minister does not utter a word. Giving such an opportunity for people to take law into their hands and to turn the country into bedlam is an failure in governance of the BJP. It is incumbent on the central government to recognize this, correct it and lead the country back to the right path, and not to blame WhatsApp to cover up its failure in governance.

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