India: Google engineer latest victim of mob lynchings fueled by WhatsApp rumors

A 32-year-old Google engineer was beaten to death and three others were severely injured in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on Friday in the latest incident of mob violence fueled by fake social media messages.

The victims were assaulted after one of them reportedly offered imported chocolates to school children, according to local media reports. The assailants assumed teh group were trying to kidnap the children — a terrifying similarity to a string of mob lynchings in recent weeks.

Police arrested 25 people on Sunday following the latest incident.

Since May, at least 25 people have become victims of vigilante justice triggered by fake warnings of child kidnappers or organ harvesters circulated on Facebook-owned messaging platform Whatsapp.

The perpetrators in most cases are villagers, many of them first time smartphone users unable to discern between real and fake videos which are sent via the platform.

Technology-driven menace

Alarmed by the string of lynchings, India’s Ministry of Electronics and information Technology has called on Whatsapp to remain “accountable, responsible and vigilant” and act immediately to curb the spread of false information.

“WhatsApp needs to recognize India offers a huge market for them. They are making good money out of India operations,” Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said earlier this month. “Therefore they must focus on the security related aspects of people of India.”

Earlier this week, Whatsapp, which counts India as its biggest market with more than 200 million users, published full-page advertisements in leading Indian newspapers offering tips to users on how to identify false information.

“We are starting an education campaign in India on how to spot fake news and rumors,” a WhatsApp spokesman said in a statement. “Our first step is placing newspaper advertisements in English and Hindi and several other languages. We will build on these efforts.”

WhatsApp also launched a new feature that will label forwarded messages as such, informing receivers that the sender is not the creator of the message.