02 Jul 2018
Five lynched in Maharashtra over 'child-lifter' rumors, WhatsApp-toll reaches 19
Death of innocents is always tragic, but inexplicably, the pain of murdering one ordinary person after another doesn't seem to have hit India yet.
Villagers in Rainpada of Dhule, Maharashtra, lynched five people yesterday over rumors about 'child-lifters.'
This takes the WhatsApp death-toll to 19 in 1.5 months. The "disease" has spread across Assam, TN, Tripura, WB, Gujarat, AP, Telangana, Karnataka, MP and Odisha.
What happened at Rainpada?
Yesterday, Rainpada residents saw the five men getting down at the bus-stop. They claimed the men talked to a local girl, which aroused suspicion.
At 11am at the Sunday market, a mob attacked the men with stones and sticks. They were then dragged to a Gram Panchayat office room nearby and brutally assaulted.
They were later taken to a hospital, but were declared brought dead.
Turns out, they were nomads begging for alms
By the time police reached the spot, the crowd had dispersed, locals said.
Police soon realized the victims were not 'child-lifters'; they in fact belonged to the Gosai community, who lead nomadic lives, "put up tents in different areas, and beg for alms from locals," said ADGP (Law and Order) Bipin Bihari.
"Since they were outsiders, they might have been targeted," an officer said.
No one knows where the 'child-lifting' messages started
No one knows where these 'child-lifting' messages originated, but they have led to the deaths of at least 28 people in a year.
In each case, the 'local-versus-outsider' sentiment was on full display, especially in tribal areas like Karbi Anglong (Assam) and Rainpada.
Efforts to counter them have backfired horrifyingly: in Tripura's Kalachhara, a man spreading awareness against rumor-mongering was lynched on similar suspicions.
Irony: WhatsApp replacing Facebook as more trusted source of news
It doesn't help that WhatsApp is replacing Facebook as a more trusted source of news.
According to the Reuters Institute, the use of Facebook for consuming news has reduced 9% from 2017 as more users turn to WhatsApp.
A key factor is consumers looking for more personal and less confrontational spaces, experts said.
Incidentally, India is WhatsApp's largest market, with 200mn monthly active users.
What are the police doing?
Police have been trying to clamp down on rumors. Last month, Hyderabad Police joined locals in an anti-rumor march. In TN, authorities have begun awareness drives.
In Karnataka and Assam, police are monitoring content online, especially viral messages.
In Telangana, they have issued warnings and made arrests.
In the Rainpada case, at least 15 locals have been detained.
WhatsApp waging its own battle against fake news
When users receive spam they see "Forwarded Many Times"; when they try to forward them, they see, "A message you are forwarding has been forwarded many times."
The alert is triggered once a message has been forwarded 25 times.