The scourge of false rumors circulating widely and rapidly via social media is now well known, with Facebook in the US being blamed for much of it. But in India, another vehicle is being used to spread rumors with deadly results. That medium is WhatsApp, a phone and chat application that uses the internet. It is used widely in developing countries because if you have access to free wifi, you can make free phone calls to anywhere in the world.
In India, these rumors have led to the murders of many people, the latest case being that of five people who were lynched because the rumors said that they were abducting children.
Five men have been lynched by a mob in India’s western state of Maharashtra allegedly over rumours of child abduction spreading over WhatsApp.
Twelve people have been arrested for the killings, which happened on Sunday, police told BBC Marathi.
The victims belonged to a nomadic community and had been passing through the village, police said.
Despite attempts by the police to counter them, incidents of lynchings resulting from such rumours continue.
Officials elsewhere in India have also urged people not to believe messages linked to child abductions.
“When rumours start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely,” senior Assam police official Mukesh Agarwal told BBC Hindi’s Dilip Kumar Sharma, adding that police were watching various social media sites to try to stop the spread of the messages.
What puzzles me is not that false rumors can spread so quickly. This has long been well known. Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Social media has simply aggravated the problem.
What puzzles me is that people are willing to take such drastic vigilante actions, even to the extent of murdering someone, purely on the basis of such rumors. What drives such people? Do they think that will be treated as heroes and bask in glory for supposedly preventing crimes and providing summary justice?