On July 13, 2018, five friends took a road trip to visit the Indian countryside village of Handikera, which is in the southern state of Karnataka. The five men, Salham Al Kubassi, Mohammed Salman, Mohammed Azam, Mohammed Afroz and Noor Mohammad, traveled to the outskirts of town for a picnic. But what was set to be an idyllic summer vacation quickly turned violent.
Rumors about child kidnappings had spread rapidly across India for months via WhatsApp. According to eyewitness accounts, adults working in the fields saw the men handing chocolate to the children and grew suspicious. The villagers sent video of the men to a nearby village in Murki falsely claiming they were child kidnappers. In response, villagers in Murki placed a roadblock to stop the car. An angry mob beat the men and ultimately killed Mohammed Azam, a 32-year-old software engineer.
This is one of many incidents in which rumors of child kidnappers led to deadly violence in India. In the first half of 2018, more than two dozen people were killed. While violent attacks based on WhatsApp rumors have decreased, in part due to response from WhatsApp, misinformation on social media is still a significant problem in India. This story re-creates the events of that day in July, 2018 through accounts from eyewitnesses and law enforcement familiar with the case. It also investigates how rumors can spread so quickly on WhatsApp in India, sometimes leading to dangerous and real-life consequences.
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