WhatsApp video of fake kidnapping sparks hysteria and deadly violence in India

Police in India have arrested 16 people after two men became the latest victims of public hysteria over rumours of child kidnappers (NDTV), spread using WhatsApp.

The men were killed by a large mob in Assam, a north-eastern state of  India, when residents reportedly believed they were “kidnappers” they had been warned about on WhatsApp. Victims of the attack, Niltopal Das, a 29-year-old audio engineer, and 30-year-old digital artist, Abijeet Nath, visited a picnic spot in the Karbi Anglong district (Telegraph UK), 116 miles from the state capital, Dispur.

Rumors of child kidnappings (Al Jazeera) spread on WhatsApp have already led to the deaths of seven other people in the past month. In May, a 65-year-old woman was lynched (The News Minute) by a mob of 200 people in the Polur district of Tamil Nadu after she offered children chocolates in return for helping them with directions. Locals believed her to be part of a trafficking ring.

In Bengaluru, an immigrant from Rajasthan (Times of India) was attacked by a mob, and in Hyderabad a transgender person was beaten to death (The New Indian Express) by locals on suspicion of being a child trafficker.

Similar events have occurred in other Indian states like  Jharkhand, Odisha, and others.

The video circulating over the WhatsApp messenger service is accompanied by text announcing that 200 kidnappers have arrived in the city (The News Minute) with the aim of snatching children. However, the original video is an educational video from Pakistan (BBC) to create awareness about child trafficking.

The original video ends with the snatchers returning the child with a placard showing a message

“It takes only a moment to kidnap a child from the streets of Karachi. Every year, over 3,000 children go missing in Karachi, Pakistan. Keep an eye on your child,” the commentary says.

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