Indian mobs have murdered 24 citizens since April because of rumors on the social media platform, WhatsApp, that falsely claimed that the victims were among gangs of child kidnappers who were infiltrating India’s communities.
Some of the rumors have been contrived with video footage that has been edited to appear as a kidnapping. One of the videos used was an old video that was made for a public service announcement in Pakistan. The number of rumors has reportedly been so severe that for several weeks, Indian police visited communities to warn the citizens not to believe the fear-mongering rumors on the app.
The people starting these rumors have been able to slip through the cracks due to a loophole in WhatsApp’s structure. Once an initial post has been shared, it can no longer be linked back to the origin of the post. However, due to the killings, WhatsApp has been labeling each forwarded post since last week, in addition to sponsoring ads in Indian newspapers to inform citizens about the rumors. In some parts of India, the crisis has become so problematic that the government had to shut down the Internet so that citizens could no longer use WhatsApp.
India’s government is pursuing the issue rigorously. Recently, officials announced that there had been 46 arrests in the lynching death of a 65-year-old woman who was mistaken for a rumored kidnapper. But they are just getting started, revealing that in that case alone, they were seeking to arrest 74 more people.
The latest murder occurred on Friday, July 13th, when a man was beaten to death by a mob after handing out candy to children. Three of his peers were also assaulted, but they survived.
WhatsApp is reportedly issuing a warning to users now, stating, “Fake news often goes viral. Just because a message is shared many times does not make it true.”