Kashmiris Vanish From WhatsApp, Thrown Out of Groups After 120 Days of Internet Blackout

News18.com

WhatsApp accounts belonging to Kashmiris began to expire this week as the internet blackout in the region completed four months on Tuesday, in what many pointed out was heartbreakingly symbolic of them being cut-off from the rest of the world due to the prolonged and severe restrictions.

Users of the ubiquitous messaging platform in the Valley started vanishing from WhatsApp groups in which they had long participated, Buzzfeed News reported. Initially no one was quite sure what was happening since people could not have exited on their own and may not even have known that anything has changed.

A Facebook spokesperson later confirmed 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 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.

The social media giant remained silent on the number of people affected, but several people on Twitter shared screenshots of their friends and family members in Kashmir exiting WhatsApp groups they had been a part of for long.

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 wrote.

Suhail Lyser, a Kashmiri student in Dehradun, told the website that he saw more than 150 Kashmiris in a WhatsApp group suddenly disappear from the group. But according to another Kashmiri doctor who lives in New Delhi, people using WhatsApp due to their travels outside the state found their accounts intact.

Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, then a state and now a Union Territory, have been blocked since August 5, when the Centre revoked its special autonomy and read down Article 370 of the Constitution.

Several other restrictions on movement and telecommunications were put in place that have since been lifted, but the internet blackout continues despite attracting international criticism.

The government argues that restrictions are necessary to check “aggressive anti-India social media posts being pushed from across the border”. On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu said Internet services would be restored in Kashmir in phases once the situation turns "more normal", but gave no timeline for it.