World Bulletin / News Desk
WhatsApp announced limits on the forwarding of messages by its 200 million Indian users in an effort to stop a spate of horrific lynchings and to assuage government threats of legal action in its biggest market.
Late Thursday India's government, scrambling to find a response, threatened legal action against WhatsApp, saying the "medium" for spreading malicious rumours "cannot evade responsibility and accountability".
The Facebook-owned firm responded on Friday with an announcement it will test limiting the ability of its users to forward messages and cap at five the number of contacts or groups that messages can be forwarded to.
It addition, it said it will "remove the quick forward button next to media messages," a statement said.
"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," the company said.
Under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, the firm had already announced new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded.
WhatsApp had also bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation.
But in a strongly worded statement released late Thursday, India's information technology ministry said this was not enough.
"Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp," the ministry said.
"If (WhatsApp) remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action," it said.
In India people forward on WhatsApp more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world, the company said.
In its statement, the ministry also called on WhatsApp to enable the "traceability" of provocative or inflammatory messages when an official request is made.
But the platform on Friday was again clear that the privacy of its users was paramount, saying messages would stay "end-to-end encrypted".
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