Recently, in the Indian state of Tripura, false rumours were spread through the WhatsApp messaging service of a gang of child kidnappers operating in the state. This resulted in the death of three people due to lynching.
As a counter measure, Smriti Ranjan Das, a police spokesman told that, "The administration has decided to cut off Internet and mobile messaging services for next 48 hours... to stop rumour mongering".
Sukanta Chakraborty, was one of the victims of the lynching. He was tasked by authorities to warn people against hoaxes. However, locals of Sabroom, some 130 Km from the state capital Agartala said that Sukanta Chakraborty was beaten with sticks and bricks as he was warning people on a megaphone against fake information.
Similarly, in West Tripura, nearly 1000 strong mob had attacked four traders from Uttar Pradesh state. They killed one and critically injured the rest. The rumour was that these four traders were child kidnappers. While escaping, they were chased after. Though they took refuge in a paramilitary camp, the mob attacked the four with sticks and rods.
Hours before in the same area, Das had said that, a mob had set upon an unidentified woman after she was spotted by residents walking around their village. The woman in her 40s and was beaten with batons and dragged across the village as tribal residents chanted ‘death to child lifters’.
Our assessment is with the number of internet users who live in proximity , it is easy to spread fake news. In the case of Tripura, even warnings by government authorities failed to prevent the crime. . We believe that it’s not difficult to trigger mob violence using social media on emotive issues like child kidnapping. We feel that such incidents are a sign of present danger as fake messages can galvanise flash mobs in a few minutes.