In yet another reminder that fake news can actually have disastrous consequences, a misleading video being circulated on WhatsApp has led to the brutal killings of at least nine people across India.
The footage, which went viral on social media and was covered by the local news channels, showed two men supposedly abducting a child on a motorcycle. An accompanying message urged people to be cautious of kidnappers roaming the streets, causing widespread panic and chaos.
It has since been revealed the clip was not only false, it wasn’t even from India. According to reports, the widely circulated video had been edited from a Pakistani child safety film – but since when has logic stopped people from sharing baseless rumors?
The misinformation led to locals reportedly attacking strangers they didn’t recognize or those who didn’t speak their language. In fact, so far, a series of horrifying lynchings have claimed the lives of over half a dozen people who were just at a wrong place at a wrong time.
The first incident of a mob beating a man to death over the WhatsApp video was reported in April in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The victim was reportedly attacked after he was seen wandering the streets.
Things got even worse in May as six cases of such killings were reported to the police. A 55-year old woman was lynched in Tamil Nadu after she was seen giving sweets to local children, a man in Andhra Pradesh was fatally assaulted for not speaking local language Telugu, a man in Telengana was killed for allegedly entering a mango orchard at night while another man in the same state was lynched while visiting his relatives.
Similarly, a man in the city of Bangalore was beaten to death with cricket bats and a transgender woman was murdered in Hyderabad.
“Whereas such acts of spreading rumors by the aforesaid miscreants by using social media are causing a lot of disturbance to the public order of the Society and creating a serious threat to the lives of innocent persons,” the Hyderabad City Police stated on its Facebook page following the lynching.
The latest victims, identified as 30-year-old audio engineer Nilotpal Das and 29-year-old digital artist Abijeet Nath, were reportedly attacked in the state of Assam after they reportedly stopped to ask for directions in a black four-wheel drive. The two men were in the village for sightseeing, but ended up being chased and murdered by a village mob after being mistaken for child snatchers.
Their gruesome murders were filmed and shared on social media.
“Don't kill me ... Please don't beat me,” Das was seen pleading in the clip. “I am an Assamese … Please let me go.”
“There was a rumor that some child abductors had entered our village. This was shared via WhatsApp and Facebook. The message also read that one of the abductors had long hair,” said a villager. “The youth were stopped and asked about their whereabouts. But in between some local people came and started thrashing them.”
Although the local law enforcement agencies have reportedly been trying to spread awareness about the WhatsApp video being false, it doesn’t appear to have been working so far.
“When rumors start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely,” senior Assam police official Mukesh Agarwal told BBC.
Police have so far arrested over 30 people for their alleged involvement in the lynchings.
It is important to note WhatsApp, which has nearly 250 million active users in India, is widely used as tool to disseminate political messages in the country – particularly during the elections. It means people are more inclined to believe and share whatever material they receive without bothering to verify its credibility.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images