WhatsApp accounts belonging to Kashmiri users have begun to expire as the region completed 120 days of an internet blockade on Tuesday. The social media platform deletes accounts that have stayed inactive for that long.
Several Twitter users shared screenshots showing that friends and family members based in Kashmir had exited WhatsApp groups they had been part of – most likely without their knowledge.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the disappearances from WhatsApp groups were the result of the company’s policy on inactive accounts. “To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity,” the spokesperson said. “When that happens, those accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups.”
When the users get internet connections back, they will need to register themselves with WhatsApp again, recreate their profiles, and ask the group administrators to be added back. It is not yet clear how many Kashmiris were affected.
A Twitter user observed that “an important part of their [Kashmiri WhatsApp users’] digital imprint is vanishing and they don’t even know it’s happening”.
Kashmiri activist Shehla Rashid tagged WhatsApp on Twitter and said: “Please pay attention to this. There is no Internet in Kashmir for the past 4 months now, and your algorithm is deleting Kashmiri Whatsapp accounts which have been inactive for over 120 days, for no fault of theirs.”
“I initially thought that internet services had been restored in Kashmir and maybe these people were just removing themselves from WhatsApp groups on their own,” London-based Kashmiri doctor Mudasir Firdosi told BuzzFeed News. “But I quickly realised that’s not the case.”
Suhail Lyser, a Kashmiri student in Dehradun, told the website that more than 150 Kashmiris in a WhatsApp group that shared news and updates about the region “left” a group he was part of.
A Twitter user called Soprich said: “Suddenly all my contacts from Kashmir are ‘leaving’ the #Whatsapp groups, and their WhatsApp accounts are getting lost. Remember there is NO internet in #Kashmir from the last 4 months. What kind of sinister moves are these?”
Jammu and Kashmir, then a state and now a Union Territory, has not had active internet connections since August 5, when the Centre revoked its special constitutional status. Several other restrictions that were put in place have since been removed. Earlier this week, the Centre told Parliament that internet restrictions were imposed to check “aggressive anti-India social media posts being pushed from across the border”.