By Anuradha Gandhi and Rachita Thakur
The famous free messaging application, WhatsApp, has its feet grappled with controversies since a long time now. One of such instance dates back to 2019 wherein WhatsApp was criticized for its role in upto 30 mob lynches that were said to be triggered by rumours spreading on the App. In response, WhatsApp released a White Paper titled, “Stopping Abuse” stating that it has deleted 2 million accounts per month as part of an effort to blunt the use of the world’s most popular messaging app to spread of fake news.
Source: Stopping Abuse: How WhatsApp Fights Bulk Messaging and Automated Behaviour
Monthly Compliance Reports- Statistics
The Meta owned social media platform, WhatsApp, in its crackdown of reported accounts, banned over 7.4 million Indian users from the platform. WhatsApp in its latest monthly report in consonance with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) 2021, revealed the actions taken in response to grievances from Indian users , account violations in India and orders from Grievance Appellate Committee, encompassing user complaints and regulatory compliance. 
WhatsApp received 14, 767 complaints in India in August and took remedial action on 71 of the reports which included banning an account or restoring the previously banned account.
3.4 million accounts were proactively banned before user reports from amongst 7.4 million accounts during the period August 1-31, 2023. This was taken as a preemptive action to enforce platform rules and policies by identifying accounts that potentially violate rules. This can be said to be a measure to ensure safety and integrity of the platform without relying on the user reported violations.
What does WhatsApp do to ensure safety and security on the platform?
WhatsApp, on its website, details how it deals with the abuse and spam, stating that it considers user complaints and takes proactive measures to prevent harmful behavior on the platform.
In order to detect the prohibited and/or harmful and/or abusive contents, WhatsApp operates at three key stages in an account’s lifecycle, that is:
- Registration– The accounts have to pass through this common checkpoint wherein the platform sends in temporary code via SMS or a phone call. The users have to enter the code to verify their accounts with the platform. WhatsApp bans accounts that send high volume of messages, coordinated campaigns that often try to spread their activity across many different accounts;
- Messaging– The accounts that complete registration, the platform monitors user behaviour and intensity of activity or forwarding of content. For instance, an account that is registered 5 minutes before attempting to send 100 messages in 15 seconds is more likely to be engaged in abuse and thus, such accounts are immediately banned from the platform. WhatsApp further makes use of systems that detect various factors to shut abuse;
- Response to negative feedback that is receives from user reports and blocks – Accounts are banned on receipt on user reports and blocks. Whenever a user receives a message from an unknown number, such a user then is provided with options that enable them to “report” or “block” the sender’s account.
Users need to be vigilant too!
As reported, WhatsApp’s automated tracking systems that identifies unusual and complex cases thereby help countering abusive behavior on the platform and end-to-end encrypted messaging services to combat abuse. While the platform blocks the harmful accounts, the platform also urges the users to be vigilant and notify the platform about any unauthorized use or security breach of any kind that the users might experience or know about.
What are the Prohibited Activities?
- Violates, misappropriates, or infringes the rights of WhatsApp, our users or others including privacy or intellectual property or other proprietary rights;
- Is illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, intimidating, harassing, hateful, or racially offensive;
- Involves publishing falsehood or misrepresentations;
- Involves sending illegal or impermissible communications such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing and the
- Or involves any non-personal use of services other authorized by WhatsApp
As per the FAQs on WhatsApp’s official website, an account activity violates the Terms of Service if it involves a spam, scams or if it puts WhatsApp users’ safety at risk.
WhatsApp – A Significant Social Media Intermediary
The sizable Significant Social Media Intermediaries include WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. therefore, these intermediaries are encumbered with additional due diligence which is required to be observed along with the standard due diligence that all intermediaries are bound by. 
Thus, WhatsApp’s decision to ban accounts comes in compliance with the IT Rules. This is not the first time that the social media intermediary has taken such an action. More than 2.9 million accounts in India were banned the month of January, 2023 and 3.6 million in December, 2022. 
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021 (hereinafter referred to as the “IT Rules”) enlists compliances for social media intermediaries to observe due diligence, deploy automated technology based measures, including automated tools or other mechanisms to proactively identify information that depicts abuse.
The IT Rules, under Rules 4A, provides for additional due diligence that must be observed by significant social media intermediaries which includes:
- Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the IT Act and IT Rules
- Appointing a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance to their orders;
- Appointing a Resident Grievance Officer;
- Publishing a periodic report every month mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken thereon and the number specific communication links or parts of information that the intermediary has removed or disabled access to in pursuance of any proactive monitoring conducted by using automated tools.
A significant social media intermediary is a social media intermediary having a number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government.  As per the notification dated February 25, 2021, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has specified fifty five lakh as a threshold for a social media intermediary to be a significant social media intermediary.
Rule 7 of the IT Rules further state that in case of non-compliance by an intermediary with the IT Rules, such an intermediary then shall be subjected to criminal liability.
WhatsApp in loop with previous legal challenges
Complying with the provisions now, WhatsApp in the case titled, WhatsApp LLC v. Union of India, once challenged the enforcement of the IT Rules citing them to be ‘unconstitutional’ and violative of right to privacy. WhatsApp had moved to the Delhi High Court challenging the ‘traceability’ clause, that is, Rule 4(2) of the IT Rules that requires the intermediaries to enable identification of the first originator. It was pleaded that tracing the originator would led to breaking of end-to-end encryption and puts its benefits at risk.
It must be further noted that in response the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology released a press note dated May 26, 2021, stating that the government has no intention to violate the right of privacy of WhatsApp users. The requirement to identify originator of information is only required for Prevention, Investigation or Punishment of very serious offences that relate to sovereignty and integrity of India.
 Rule 2(v) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics) Code, 2021
 Writ Petition (2021)