In India, WhatsApp stirs up deadly rumours

In India, WhatsApp stirs up deadly rumours

On Friday, an IT engineer working for a multinational corporation based in Hyderabad went on a drive with three others, including a Qatari friend, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Hours later Mohammad Azam was beaten to death by a mob of around 200 people in Bidar district, about 150km from Hyderabad – a major IT hub – after he was suspected of being a child kidnapper.

At least 32 people, including the administrator of a WhatsApp group that circulated the abduction rumours, were arrested following the attack on Friday, India’s NDTV website reported.

Azam was the latest victim of abduction rumours circulating on the popular messaging platform owned by Facebook.

Once you let loose demons in society, where mobs are encouraged, lionised and valorised, then you can’t ask them to act at your bidding and go back quietly into their cages

Harsh Mandar, activist

Since the end of April, more than two dozen people have been beaten to death by mob vigilantes across India over suspicions of child abduction, according to reports.

Two weeks ago, five men in their 20s were also lynched by a mob at Dhule in western state of Maharashtra, following similar rumours shared on WhatsApp, according to police.

One of the five men, all nomadic beggars, was spotted talking to a young girl at a bus stop, leading to the deadly beating. They all died before police could take them to hospital. 

Activists and technology analysts have raised alarms that messaging applications like WhatsApp are being hijacked by people intent on spreading hoaxes.

Harsh Mander, an activist fighting hate crimes and mob lynchings in India, said WhatsApp only serves as a platform to spread violence.

“It’s the culture of violence patronised by the politics of hatred that legitimises such killings, and not just a social media platform,” Mander told Al Jazeera.

Easy accessibility to technology

Earlier this month in southern India’s city of Mangaluru, a man out in the street with his two-year-old daughter, was beaten by a mob.

One year since protesting farmers killed by police in Indian’s Mandsaur

In the northeastern state of Tripura, a man working for the government to dispel WhatsApp rumours on child kidnapping was beaten to death on June 28.

In a report published on July

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