Lynchings sparked by gossip
India is in the middle of a lynching epidemic, said The Hindu. Malicious rumors about immigrants and outsiders are spreading via the social messaging service WhatsApp, with Indians being told that these interlopers could be part of smuggling rings that are kidnapping children to harvest their organs. Some messages include a video of an apparent kidnapping, but the footage is actually from a Pakistani public awareness ad about child safety. Since May, mobs have killed or severely beaten more than two dozen people, nearly all of them travelers from out of town. Among three people lynched in the northeastern state of Tripura on a single June day “was a man hired by the state government to spread awareness against precisely such rumors.” After ignoring the lynchings for weeks, the government finally stepped in, but only to blame WhatsApp and ask it to scrub its site of false messages. Given that the app’s messages are encrypted, and therefore difficult for even WhatsApp to read, it’s doubtful that such censorship would be possible even if it were desirable. A better course would be “old-fashioned information campaigns.” The government should explain to all Indians that the child-snatching rumor is a hoax—and that a stranger is not necessarily an enemy.