How ‘Fake News’ Texts About Child Abductors, Organ Harvesters Are Triggering Mob Violence In India

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Messages on the communications platform WhatsApp are reportedly inciting mob violence in India over suspicions that people among local communities are going to abduct children or harvest human organs.

For instance, a WhatsApp message recently spread within some parts of India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh shared the idea that around 500 people dressed as vagrants were going to wander around in search of people to kill for their valuable body parts, according to a Reuters report published Monday. Just weeks prior, other WhatsApp messages circulating within different communities said 400 child traffickers would be in the area as part of a child-abducting campaign.

Both cases of virtual communication, which police have described as fake, led to brutal violence against people believed to be completely innocent. A mob of roughly 55 villagers ferociously beat up two presumably blameless men earlier in June, Reuters reported, because they somehow perceived them to be the ones planning on murdering people for their organs.

For the kid-snatcher accusations, a mass of frenetic people lynched a 26-year-old construction worker as he was walking along a road.

Authorities joined the WhatsApp groups that were the sources of the more recent wild allegations, and were eventually able to nab and arrest those blamed for originally creating and disseminating the messages.

All in all, more than a dozen people in India have been beaten in 2018 due to false communications about child-capturing and other scary, unfounded dangers that have spread through messaging services like WhatsApp, according to Reuters. At least three of those victimized have died.

The biggest human market for WhatsApp with more than 200 million active users as of February 2017, India has become quite dependent on WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. Its prevalence conceivably could be contributing to cultural and religious tensions, as people with intense apprehensiveness over differences appear to be spreading fear-mongering theories with little to no corroboration. (RELATED: Facebook Brings WiFi To Country Of 1.2 Billion)

Facebook has been pressured by portions of the public to do something about the purported advent of misleading or false news because it might lead to generally uninformed opinions. This sort of situation in India seems to be the most urgent rationale for tech companies to do what they can to try to tell people what news is legitimate.

What WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook can do to help stop the relatively wide-spread problem of fake news-inducing violence is not clear because, among other potential reasons, the proprietary platform employs encryption, meaning messages can only be read by the recipient and sender.

Facebook and WhatsApp did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment in time of publication.

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