How rumors on WhatsApp led to a mob killing in India | The Fact Checker

-Five friends werevisiting relatives in a South Indiancountryside village.

It was July 13, 2018.

It was set to bean idyllic vacation until villagers starteddeflating the tires of the group's car.

Videos of the menhad been forwarded to a WhatsApp groupin the nearby town of Murki.

The viral messages falselyaccused them of being child kidnappers.

Violence erupted.

An angry mobbeat the innocent men.

They were badly injuredand one of them was killed.

All because false informationspread via WhatsApp.

Five friends, Salham Al Kubassi, Mohammed Salman, Mohammed Azam, Mohammed Afroz, and Noor Mohammed went to visit Handikera, a small village inthe southern state of Karnataka on July 13, 2018.

They ventured to the outskirtsof town for a picnic and drove by some childrengetting out of school.

We visited this area to findpeople who witnessed the eventsthat took place next.

-[The men] had broughtchocolates from Qatar.

They were giving themto the children.

The people in the fieldssaw them, the children.

[They asked] What is happening?What is happening? These people came in cars.

They are giving chocolatesto the children.

-There had been rumors aboutchild kidnappers across India.

Parents were wary.

Some thought the menmight be kidnappers.

Several villagersrushed toward their car.

-And some of these angryvillagers started deflating the tiresof the vehicle [the men] were traveling in.

-They were beating, beating, beating them.

And, thinking that they willkill them, [the friends] began running.

-Salham Al Kubassi, Mohammed Salman, and Mohammed Azamescaped in their car, leaving Mohammed Afrozand Noor Mohammed behind.

But not before a videoof the travelers was sent to a WhatsApp group in theneighboring village of Murki, falsely claiming the menwere child kidnappers.

-The car was coming from here.

There was some woodcut there near the road.

So, from there, becausethe tires dipped, the car went there.

Because the car was there, at that time, everyone said, "Kidnapper, "while beating them.

-The mob started pelting stones and they were literally draggedout of the vehicle and they started beating them.

-The police were called, but, by the timethey reached the scene, the crowd was impossibleto control.

The mob killed 32-year-oldsoftware engineer Mohammed Azam, as well as injured the other menand several police officers.

So how did this dangerous rumorspread so fast and why wasno one able to stop it? Fake news on WhatsApp isa significant problem in India, its largest market, where the platform has morethan 400 million users.

At least two dozen people werekilled in mob lynchings in India connected to WhatsApp rumorsin the first half of 2018.

The perpetrators are largelypeople who live in rural areas.

Pratik Sinha is a fact-checkerin India who coversmisinformation online.

-There's a huge sectionof population which is getting accessto mobile and Internet services for the first timein their lives and they do not havethe capacity to figure out what is authentic, what is not.

-Before this incident, messagesabout child kidnappers had been circulating viaWhatsApp in India for months.

One viral video shows a child being taken awayby a motorcyclist.

But the footage is originally from a child safety campaignin Pakistan.

The version shared widelyon WhatsApp in India was edited.

It left out key context that explained the videowas made to create awareness.

-So these kind of videosand images were being circulated to create panic.

There was this state of masshysteria in many parts because these villagerssaw these videos and they really believed that, yes, there is a gang out there, which is there to kidnaptheir children.

-WhatsApp has been used as oneof the main messaging apps for disinformation campaignsin countries around the world.

The closed and encrypted natureof WhatsApp makes it difficultto trace false information and shut it down.

-WhatsApp is sucha closed community.

They tend to be, again, our friends and family, people that we know, and so, we trust the information, or can trust the informationthat we receive through the platform a lot more.

-In light of themob lynchings in India, WhatsApp has taken action.

The app labels when a messagehas been forwarded and limits forwardingto five group chats.

This move reduced forwardedmessages in India by over 25%.

WhatsApp and local expertsgroups also created digital literacy trainings, to teach usershow to spot fake news.

The amount of mob attacksin India tied to WhatsApp messagesseriously decreased after 2018.

But violence sparked by childkidnapping rumors is still a problem.

-When we look at these rumorson social media, we know that they arenot dying down.

They keep circulating.

It is not the speed at whichthe rumor is traveling.

It is the sustained nature of itwhich is a bigger problem.

-When WhatsApp launched in 2009, it gave people across the worlda chance to rapidly communicate.

Two billion people use the app.

But a lack of media literacyand government inaction has allowed misinformationon the platform to spread, often in waysthat are difficult to see and challenging to control.

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