India has asked its telecom operators to find ways of blocking applications such as Facebook and messaging app WhatsApp in the case of misuse, Reuters reported.
India has in recent months intensified efforts to crack down on mass message forwards after it found that people were using social media and messaging apps to spread rumors and stoke public anger.
The Reuters report did not mention about the role of Google, which also publishes fake news of its partner publishers, and YouTube, which publishes fake videos. Twitter is yet another source for spreading rumours.
Business association with Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, YouTube, Twitter, among others, is important for telecom operators to make revenue from mobile data. Telecom operators such as BSNL, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance have made investment in mobile data networks to arrest falling ARPU.
The government should look for more effective steps to curb fake news and maintain public order, instead of blocking mobile applications which is very difficult and may hamper routine actions of innocent people, the COAI said on Tuesday.
“It would be very difficult for telecom operators to block individual mobile applications as asked by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT),” Rajan S Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said.
The report said WhatsApp in particular has faced the wrath of Indian regulators after false messages circulated on the messaging platform led to a series of lynchings and mob beatings across the country.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) in July has asked Indian telecom service providers, as well as mobile and internet industry bodies, to “explore various possible options” to block such apps.
“You are … requested to explore various possible options and confirm how the Instagram / Facebook / Whatsapp / Telegram and such other mobile apps can be blocked on internet,” according to the government letter dated July 18.
Facebook owns both WhatsApp and photo-sharing platform Instagram. Facebook is already facing challenges in several markets due to its business policies. It is emerged that the social media giant sells customer data to generate revenue. Such data can be used for analysis of consumer behaviour for the purpose of influencing important decisions like political campaigns.
A source at India’s department of telecommunication said the letter was aimed at finding ways to block such apps during “emergency situations”.
“There is a need for a reasonable good solution to protect national security,” said the official, who declined to be named.
India is the biggest market for WhatsApp. WhatsApp has more than 200 million users in India. WhatsApp says Indian people forward more messages, photographs and videos than any other country.
WhatsApp has recently launched an advertising campaign to educate consumers to deter mass message forwards.
In July, WhatsApp said message forwards will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.
Separately, India’s federal police has started probing Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data.