India is a country of 1.3 billion people and those using WhatsApp, a texting, voice messaging and video-calling app, are 300 million. But how many of you are aware of the dark side of WhatsApp which is used by fringe groups to spread deadly rumours which triggered communal riots and also a primary reason for mob lynching.
According to a survey done by Al-Jazeera, the ruling political parties, particularly BJP has been using WhatsApp as a powerful campaigning tool to spread its divisive ideology that threatens peace and stability in the country.
As part of its campaign against Cow slaughter and beef eating, rumours are being spread across in various parts of the country. Added to this there are numerous groups on WhatsApp that share the ideology with the BJP and resort to cow vigilantism. This practice has led to killing of people in different parts of India.
Mohammed Akhlaq was killed in September 2015 due to rumours spread on WhatsApp which were not verified. The Cow vigilantes got an alert of Mohammed Akhlaq that he killed a cow and stored its meat in his house. This news was not verified, yet the cow protection group targeted Akhlaq and killed him.
Journalist Mohammad Ali at The Hindu, says that “People see this, they don’t go to law enforcement agencies, they don’t call the police saying there’s a possibility that Akhlaq had killed a cow. They go to his village, drag him out and beat him to death. And brutally assault his son.”
There are already tensions between different groups, but WhatsApp intensifies it by serving as a platform for communal groups helping them in fanning their ideology.
Media professor Kalyani Chadha of the University of Maryland, say that “WhatsApp amplifies it on a scale that didn’t really exist before, so WhatsApp is really in fact not just fake news, it’s actually fake news with consequences.”
It has become a hard task for the Indian authorities to deal with the challenges posed by the messaging app WhatsApp. Moreover, WhatsApp itself admits that keeping a check on fake news and information is a ‘complex task.’
Sinha says that “WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption…WhatsApp has become the primary medium to spread rumours, because people know that they will have a large amount of legal immunity, even if they are pushing out news which might lead to disastrous consequences like people being killed.”
Regarding political polarisation, Mr. Ali says that “the digital ghettoisation has increased much more now. We are looking at millions of people in a rural India being constantly radicalised through WhatsApp. They may not be ideologically-driven, but they have been ideologically appropriated.”