The message-sharing app WhatsApp has announced it will be taking steps to limit the number of times a message can be forwarded after a series of lynchings rocked the country of India. The lynchings are believed to be the result of rumors of child kidnappings spreading quickly over the app.
At least eighteen people have been killed in mob lynchings in the country since April. Some reports have the number killed being even higher. The rumors have caused to people to attack strangers; Police say it’s hard to convince some in the public that the messages fakes.
In a recent case, the victim of a lynching was a government employee whose job it was to go to villages and warn residents of the dangers of social media and the rumors that spread on it.
The Indian government warned the company this week that it would face legal repercussions if it remained a “mute spectator.” It had previously told the company that it could not evade “accountability and responsibility” for what was happening.
WhatsApp announced that going forward a user will only be able to forward a message five times. It also announced it would be removing the “quick forward button” from messages that contain pictures or video.
Groups on WhatsApp have a limit of 256 users. The messages that triggered the violence are believed to have been forwarded to several groups that each had more than 100 members.
India is WhatsApp’s largest market, with over 200 million users. Indian users “forward more messages, photos, and videos than any other country in the world,” according to the company.
“We believe that these changes – which we’ll continue to evaluate – will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app. We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we’ll continue to improve our app with features like this one,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
Photo by Christoph Scholz via Flickr