The Centre on Thursday asked messaging platform WhatsApp to find the originators of provocative messages that led to several cases of mob violence across the country. The government also warned WhatsApp of legal action if it does not put in place adequate checks.

“When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement, according to PTI. “If they remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.”

The ministry said it has approached WhatsApp to go beyond the existing efforts of labelling forwarded messages and identifying fake news. “It has been conveyed to them in unmistakable terms that it is a very serious issue which deserves a more sensitive response,” said the ministry.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been under fire from the government over fake news being circulated via its platform. This was the Centre’s second notice.

On July 4, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked the messaging platform to initiate measures to prevent the spread of “explosive messages” and warned it against accountability and responsibility. On July 11, WhatsApp said it had updated its service to label forwarded messages.

WhatsApp had also announced a new project to work with leading academic experts to learn more about the spread of misinformation. It also announced an engagement programme with law enforcement officials across India so “they are familiar with our approach and how we can be helpful”.

Violence triggered by rumours

Over the past month, several incidents of mob violence following rumours on social media have been reported across the country, leading to assaults and murders. A mob killed five people suspecting them to be part of a gang of “child lifters” in Maharashtra’s Dhule district on July 1. On June 26, a mob beat to death a 40-year-old woman in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad on the suspicion that she was a kidnapper. Three people, including a man hired by the government to spread awareness against rumours of child-lifting, were killed in Tripura at the end of June.