WhatsApp Accounts Of Kashmiris Deleted As Internet Shutdown In Valley Enters 5th Month
Kashmiris living outside the region woke up noticing a peculiar notification from WhatsApp.
Almost all of their acquaintances, friends, and family members in Kashmir who owned WhatsApp accounts had exited groups on the messaging platform.
Bewildered by the development amongst his peer group in Kashmir, Mir Basit Hussain tried to call some of his friends to find out what was wrong. Interestingly people in the valley were unaware of what had happened to their WhatsApp accounts.
“I did not understand why people were leaving the group. I thought Internet was restored. But if that was the case, why were my colleagues leaving our work group?”, he told The Logical Indian.
“I immediately made calls and found out that their accounts were being deleted due to inactivity – which is a technical feature of WhatsApp.”
As the Valley enters its 123rd day of Internet shutdown and communications blockade, social media accounts have been inactive and rendered useless. Few professionals with work privileges have been able to access a broadband connection through the Media Centre set up by the authorities in Srinagar.
Journalists frequent the Media Centre and have been sporadically utilizing social media during their visits to the only set up with an Internet connection.
The fact that their accounts were expiring was not taken too hard by the Kashmiris The Logical Indian reached out to. Although it was a poignant symbol of their ‘government-imposed’ detachment from the rest of the world, the loss of an account was not something they said they could not manage to recover.
“We have endured untimely deaths, massacres, and unaccountable financial losses. A WhatsApp account can be easily remade and the data can also be restored, but how will the recovery of everything financially, emotionally, and physically lost in these 123 days be ensured?” an aged Kashmiri, who did not wish to be named, told The Logical Indian.
This morning when nonplussed Kashmiris all over the world were trying to make sense of mass exits from WhatsApp groups, Buzzfeed news had a Facebook spokesperson confirm that the disappearances from WhatsApp groups were the result of the company’s policy on inactive accounts.
The social media company deletes accounts that have stayed inactive for more than 120 days.
“To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity. When that happens, those accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups,” a company spokesperson told Buzzfeed News.
Hilal Nabi, a professional from Kashmir who has been dropping in and out of the Media Centre for business reasons, informed us that due to his privilege he has been able to access the state-provided broadband connection and keep his WhatsApp account alive.
“Only a handful of Kashmiris have been able to unknowingly escape this mass expiration of accounts. The ones to suffer the greatest and the most trivial losses are always those without social privilege. This happening is figurative of how the establishment’s actions on Kashmir are having the most littlest of consequences”, he said.
Calling the collective losses – regardless of their scale of impact – state aggressions, a Kashmiri native told The Logical Indian that although death and desolation have scarring effects on people’s psyche, these inconsequential changes have long-term adverse impacts on personalities and shared memories.
“This is not WhatsApp’s mistake. It has been their policy. But this is a result of the Indian state’s policy on Kashmir, and Kashmiris are unwillingly having their social media account deleted for no fault of theirs. It is very enraging”, Shabana Tabassum, a homemaker, said.
WhatsApp did not share the numbers on the volume of people affected, but several people on Twitter shared screenshots of their friends and family members in Kashmir exiting WhatsApp groups that they had been a part of.
Activist Shehla Rashid tagged WhatsApp on Twitter and asked why the accounts of users were being deleted for no faults of theirs. “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,” she tweeted.
@WhatsApp 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.@evgenymorozov @zeynep @Snowden @AOC @PopTechWorks https://t.co/PbNRdVTfRi
— Shehla Rashid (@Shehla_Rashid) December 5, 2019
WhatsApp is used by approximately 400 million Indians, making the country the app’s largest market in the world. WhatsApp groups dominate online conversations in India, and most Indians with access to a smartphone are a part of one such group at least.
The Jammu region, although cut off, has seen more respite than its neighbouring region as office spaces and official buildings have reinstated broadband connections. Therefore, there has been no mass expiration of WhatsApp accounts from Jammu.
However, despite severe international criticism, Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir still remain suspended since August 5 along with several other restrictions on movement and telecommunications. Prepaid mobile connections – one of the most widely used telecommunications services in Kashmir, are still unavailable.
While the government claims to wait for the situation to “get back to normal” for restoring Internet, Kashmiris wait for the day when the ‘legitimized’ curtailment of their rights ends.