Despite attempts to halt the spread of provocative forwards and explosive videos about child kidnappers through social media, deadly attacks have continued in the country. Not long after five people in Maharashtra’s Dhule were beaten to death by a mob fed on rumours and several other murders before that, two men were mercilessly thrashed in the northeastern state of Manipur two days ago.
This time, the mob was acting on rumours about the presence of “cannibals” in their area. While one of them was attacked in Champhai village and the other one fell prey to locals in Ikaijoging village in Kangpokpi district, some 45 km from state capital Imphal.
The two men survived the attacks after locals stepped in and called the cops. They are currently at the hospital, police said.
“Both of them appear to be mentally unstable and are under police guard at a hospital. There have been rumours about the presence of child kidnappers and cannibals in the state for many days, but no report of missing children in the last one month,” an officer said.
The police have registered a case against unknown people for causing grievous injuries. “We are trying to identify the attackers,” the police said.
The hysteria about gangs out on the streets to kidnap children for organ harvesting has claimed over a dozen lives since May. The violence merely on suspicion has been fuelled by incendiary messages that reached villages across the country through WhatsApp, a popular messaging app, and Facebook, said police.
In the northeast, it began with Assam where two friends, who had gone to the Kangthilangso waterfalls in Karbi Anglong, were beaten to death by tribals who suspected them of being ‘Sopadhora’ (child kidnappers).
Last week, a hawker from Uttar Pradesh was beaten to death by a mob in Tripura on the suspicion that he and two others were in the village near Agartala to kidnap children.
The same day, another mob in south Tripura killed a 33-year-old, who, incidentally, was spreading awareness against rumours about child kidnappers.
Then in Chennai, two men were attacked when they tried to stop a boy from crossing a busy road and a bystander raised an alarm.
On Tuesday, the government asked WhatsApp to take urgent steps to prevent the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages”.
Information and Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad demanded greater accountability from social media platforms, and said technological fixes to stop mass-circulation of messages cannot be “rocket science”.
In its response, the US-based social media platform underlined steps it has taken to curb abuse of its platform, and added that fake news and misinformation can be contained by the collective effort of the government, civil society and technology companies.