This may solve WhatsApp’s biggest problem in India

Silhouettes of laptop and mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Silhouettes of laptop and mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this pi… Read More

WhatsApp was created with all the noble intention to easily connect people worldwide. However, in the past few months, the downside to WhatsApp’s popularity has become quite evident. WhatsApp Groups have emerged as a lethal gun firing bullets in the form of fake news that have claimed over 30 innocent lives in the country.

The fact that the messaging app is free, convenient to use and end-to-end-encrypted has made it ideal for large groups, who can function with partial anonymity. Thus making them a very powerful tool. With this immense power, also comes the need for accountability and greater responsibility.

At the outset, there appears to be very little that the Facebook-owned company can actually do to prevent the violence that is being spread through WhatsApp Groups.

At the same time, WhatsApp can’t simply appear as sitting ducks and do nothing about it. The company has in fact even rolled out several features in the past few months for group chats to tackle this rumour mongering. Here’s a list of some of these measures:

*The option to block people. It also prompts unknown senders with an option to either block or add the contact on WhatsApp.

* Feature to prevent users from from adding others back into groups which they left.

* Group admins can decide and even restrict other member from sending texts in a particular group.

* Demote group admins.

* The “Forwarded” label feature allows users to know if the message has being written or forwarded.

* WhatsApp has also rolled out a “Digital Literacy” to educate users on fake news. It is also working with fact checking firms and news companies to fight fake news.

But are all these steps enough to not make WhatsApp groups less deadly? Doesn’t appear so. This is as it takes time for the people to be digitally literate. The war on fake news war too is not easy. The option to block users or their messages being labelled as “Forwarded” too can get very little results.

As for the feature of demoting group admins or restricting members from sending messages in groups. The problem is that we tend to get egoistic about these things and very few admins may think of using this tool fearing “ego wars” among group members.

Also, WhatsApp needs to understand that some groups are purposely created to spread hate and violence. So, none of the above controls will work at all in such cases.

So, is drastically limiting maximum group members the only immediate solution?

Currently, on WhatsApp you can create a group with 256 members. Interestingly, there’s a hack to even add more group members. Now, do you really need so many people in one group? The answer is both yes and no. Of course, for rogue usage, the answer is no. But then there are WhatsApp groups for police, hospital, journalists and others that need a higher group member limit.

So, to keep a check WhatsApp should put in some framework which makes document verification mandatory for people wanting to create large groups. This will help ensure accountability of large WhatsApp groups.

For the general public, the WhatsApp group members limit should be restricted to maximum 25. This limit is enough for day-to-day usage of most users.

Especially since WhatsApp claims that the majority of messages are shared between single person to person accounts. The company further says that around 25 percent users in India are not part of any group and also that most groups are smaller than 10 members. If this is the case, then WhatsApp can easily restrict the maximum member limit of groups.