Uttar Pradesh Police is set to build a contingent of 3,67,250 digital volunteers to counter fake news on social media platforms, Hindustan Times reported quoting Director General of Police OP Singh.

“It will counter fake news being spread on social media by anti-social elements,” Singh said on Thursday. “Rumours incite people of different communities and create a law-and-order problem. The plan has been initiated in view of the deaths of innocent people across the state as well the country due to false news and rumours on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.”

Singh said that the “digital army” will comprise 250 volunteers from each of the 1,469 police stations zones across the state. Singh said each police station will have a WhatsApp group. “These will, in turn, be connected to the group monitored by the Director General of Police
headquarters,” he said, adding that the volunteers will not be paid.

The state police has formed selection committees headed by the 75 district police chiefs – usually a superintendent of police or a senior superintendent of police. Singh said volunteers will include at least two people from each village, town, ward and locality. “They should be influential, respected and peace-loving members of the society with a clean image,” he said.

The move comes after the Union government on Thursday warned Facebook-owned WhatsApp of legal action if it does not put in place adequate checks to stop the spread of misinformation. It asked WhatsApp to go beyond the existing efforts of labelling forwarded messages and identifying fake news.

Later on Thursday, WhatsApp announced a new series of measures to curb the spread of fake news and misinformation in India.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court asked the Parliament to consider creating a new penal provision to deal with incidents of vigilantism, saying that mobocracy cannot be allowed in society.

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Abdul Hafiz Gandhi said fake news was a menace and social media had to be more responsible to curb violence. “If the government takes any initiative to check fake news, we have no objection to it,” he said. “Socially responsible and trusted people should be roped in to curb fake news.”

A spate of mob lynchings has claimed 22 lives in Maharashtra, Tripura, Assam, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Karnataka since March. The mobs seem to have been influenced by widely shared WhatsApp videos and messages asking people to beware of child kidnappers.