As many as 32 people have been arrested in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, after the murder a Muslim man on Friday – reportedly sparked by rumors circulating on WhatsApp.
Mohammad Azam, a 27 year old Google employee, was lynched by villagers, who accused him of abducting children. This follows a worrying trend in India in which more than 20 people, mostly non-local, have been killed due to accusations of child abduction in the last two months.
The killings have taken place amidst a backdrop of growing nationalism across the country, which will go to the polls next year.
Police Chief VN Patil reported to AFP that Mr Azam and his two friends were returning to the neighbouring city Hyderabad; after visiting a friend in Bidar they stopped midway and offered chocolates to local school children. One of the children started crying which altered the elders who accused the men of being child kidnappers whilst there were fears of child kidnapping rings in the area. Chief Patil stated that the three were able to flee initially by car but were attacked by a much larger mob in a village a few kilometres ahead. The mob was approximately 2,000 people in total and rampaged on for nearly an hour.
Mohammad Ali, an Indian journalist who has reported on the killings said the pattern seems to “target anyone who seems different”. “It is part of a discourse of nationalism and extreme polarisation the consumes anyone seen as the other,” he said.
Last month WhatsApp spokesman Carl Woog confirmed the company was going to do more to stop the spread of misinformation ahead of the upcoming elections.
"We’re working to give people more control over group discussions and are constantly evolving our tools to block unwanted automated content," he said. "In the run up to next year’s elections we will step up our education efforts so that people know about our safety features and how to spot fake news and hoaxes."