On Wednesday, several WhatsApp users from the Indian region of Kashmir started disappearing from the app. Citizens of the disputed geographical territory abruptly started leaving WhatsApp groups, leaving only a "9********7 [phone number] left" message displayed on the group's chat.
Twitter users notice mass disappearance
Facebook-owned WhatsApp has close to 400 million active users in India, making it the company's largest market in the world. WhatsApp groups are a way of life in India and most people with access to a smartphone are part of one group or another. So when people from Kashmir started disappearing in numbers from groups they participated in, it did not go unnoticed.
The locals who disappeared from the platform have long been active participants in Whatsapp groups sharing news and updates. No one was quite sure as what was happening, so, several users took to Twitter to share screenshots showing that friends and family members based in Kashmir had exited their WhatsApp groups in multitudes.
"Suddenly all my contacts from Kashmir are 'leaving' the #Whatsapp groups, and their WhatsApp accounts are getting lost," wrote one user. "Remember there is NO internet in #Kashmir from the last 4 months. What kind of sinister moves are these?"
What exactly happened?
On Aug 5, India revoked the special status to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two Union territories, following which all communication lines, including internet connections were blocked.
It has been four months since the Indian government had shut down Kashmir's internet services, cutting off the region from the rest of the world, which suggests that the Kashmiri citizens who have been leaving from their WhatsApp groups did not do so willingly.
A Facebook spokesperson later confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the mass disappearance of Kashmiris was the result of the company's policy on inactive accounts. "To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity," the spokesperson said. "When that happens, those accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups."
Once internet connections are restored in the region, users will have to register themselves again on WhatsApp, recreate their profiles, and ask the group administrators to add them back as a participant.