India’s solution to stop the spread of fake news is to shut down the internet and hold WhatsApp accountable.
India has placed restrictions on internet access because of rumours, fake news and misinformation.
In 2018, the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) in New Delhi reported 116 internet shutdowns. The blackout, which can last for up to 72 hours, is justified by the authorities as a means of maintaining peace.
“Any time there’s going to be a protest, whether peaceful or not, the first thing the authorities do is shut the internet down so there’s no communication,” said an SFLC spokesperson.
The unreported shutdowns aim to prevent the dissemination of information in a manner that the government can’t control. But this has caused problems for users.
The internet was shut down by authorities in Banda, part of the northern region of Shahjahanpur, on August 27 when protests broke out. The step was taken to stop the spread of online rumours about an alleged attack and subsequent unrest, reported the Wired UK.
Between 2012 and 2017, 16,315 hours of internet shutdowns were reported, costing the country an estimated $3.04 billion as indicated by a report of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye, called the shutdowns a collective punishment in May 2017.
In 2017, more than 30 deaths have been linked to rumours circulated via WhatsApp in India.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT said in July that WhatsApp allowed the repeated circulation of provocative content and messages spread through it are fake and sensational which has become a menace.
Related: How to spot fake news on Whatsapp
“For us, most of what you call fake news is originating on WhatsApp and not really on other major platforms,” said Sarvjeet Singh, the executive director of the University of Delhi’s Centre for Communication Governance.
WhatsApp has limited message forwarding in India to five contacts at a time because of the criticism it has faced. There are 200 million active WhatsApp users in the country.