[Editorial Analysis] Message to medium

Mains Paper: 3 | Social Networking sites in internal security challenges

Prelims level: Social Media

Mains level: WhatsApp must police itself more proactively in India, where misuse of its services has taken a toll

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Context

• From the last few months, WhatsApp has served as a dis-information superhighway for viral rumours and campaigns that could be said to have played a role in incidents of lynching.

• Union Minister for Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad has told Chris Daniels, the new CEO of WhatsApp about this.

• He expects better compliance and more responsible oversight of traffic from the messenger, which is owned by Facebook and has over 200 million users in India.

• Over the last few months, WhatsApp has served as a dis-information superhighway for viral rumours and campaigns that could be said to have played a role in incidents of lynching.

• It would have come under severe pressure if it had allowed its services to be misused with such malevolent intent in a Western market, and the Indian government has a right to expect it to conduct its business more responsibly.

• Prasad has warned that its lack of proactive will can be read as abetment, and in the role of law minister, has promised legal action if it chooses to remain a bystander.

Loopholes and Wayout

• The messenger must not be targeted, but it must be more responsible if it is not to invite the greatest evil — state snooping and censorship.

• Internet hosts and pipes were absolved of responsibility for content in the early years of digital communications, following a landmark investigation of child porngraphy in the UK and US in 2001.

• That time the technology solutions for flagging inappropriate or illegal content were inadequate, and burdening hosts with the responsibility of human oversight would have put them out of business.

• However, that is no longer the case thanks to Moore’s Law and the proliferation of new technologies like artificial intelligence.

• For instance, fake or wrongly attributed images are easily identified now.

• Fact-checking websites do it routinely, by human labour, and the processes they use can be readily incorporated in algorithms.

• This should have been called out and deleted by WhatsApp, on whose service it circulated.

• Prasad has requested technology solutions and a physical presence.

Conclusion

• WhatsApp must establish an office in India and appoint a grievance officer, in the interest of fixing accountability and expediting action to identify originators of fake content.

• Daniels has reportedly agreed to comply.

• Indeed, if social media policed itself better, there would be fewer internet shutdowns, whose business cost is immense.

• And the last resort of state surveillance, which no one wants, would become wholly unnecessary.

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