Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said the government has issued notice to WhatsApp as social media companies are accountable for the misuse of their platforms.
The government issued notice to WhatsApp as rumours in the social media application preceded most incidences of violence, Prasad said in the Rajya Sabha while participating in a discussion on the misuse of social media.
In response, WhatsApp has placed a limit to forwarding of messages to five and identified all forwarded messages as such, he said.
“Social media saying it is just a platform will not be acceptable. Just as a newspaper cannot say it’s not their responsibility if a provocative news is published, same way, if people die or are instigated to kill due to fake news on social media, then it’s their responsibility,” he said.
The Minister said the government is cognizant that the social media is being used as a weapon against India’s interests and to incite violence, adding that the government is committed to taking all required actions to deter this.
However, Prasad, who is also the Information Technology Minister, said it would not be wise to restrict the social media just because of a challenge, as the social media has empowered the common man by increasing his access to information and power to ask questions.
“Some people have problems with right-wing ideology and some people are averse to left wing’s. If today our ideology gets such a huge stamp of approval then the followers would also be huge … now whatever you call them – warriors or activists,” Prasad said.
He was replying to a query by Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja who wanted to know why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called its social media workers at a recent meeting “warriors”.
On Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O’Brien’s charge that Facebook deleted the page of Postcard News, as it is a right-wing portal and propagated fake news, Prasad said: “Postcard was removed by the Facebook but there is no evidence to suggest that it was propagating a particular ideology and that was the reason for removal.”
Stating that the country saw 40 lynchings in 13 states in the last one year, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad questioned the government’s intention to prevent such incidents.
“Although the government may be failing to catch many of the culprits behind fake news and social media, I want to ask the government what is it doing with those it has caught,” Azad said.
The Congress leader went on to charge the government and its political leaders for actually encouraging those behind the lynchings by meeting them in jails, promising support for bail and felicitating them when they are out on bail.
“I feel embarrassed when a respected central Minister meets the accused in Nawada jail in Bihar and another Minister, who is educated abroad, garlands those accused of lynching when they are out on bail in Jharkhand. Another Parliamentarian promised all legal expenses.
“If the government drops these ministers, MPs and MLAs, and takes legal actions against them, all lynchings would stop in the country in four days,” said Azad.