Social Media–Fueled Child Abduction Rumors Lead to Killings


Misinformation is always problematic but can be especially malicious in the digital age, when social media widely shares conspiracy theories and baseless rumors. In 2014, for example, a social media message claiming that salt water can cure or prevent Ebola went viral, causing illness and deaths in West Africa. A hoax text shared throughout Nigeria and Sierra Leone urging people to bathe in—and drink—salt water was created by a female student in Nigeria and was apparently intended as a joke. Because of the heightened fear at the time of the dreaded disease, at least two people died and dozens were sickened when they and their families followed the bogus “medical” advice.

In July 2018, rumors spread on the WhatsApp social messaging platform—owned by Facebook—became so toxic that India’s Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, issued a statement to the company that “The use, abuse, (and) misuse of your platform, particularly, which leads to killing of innocent people is plainly not acceptable.”

So far in 2018, at least twenty people have been killed in separate incidents across a dozen Indian states when mobs set upon suspected child abductors they’d been warned about in messages on social media. According to a July 8 CBC News article by Simi Bassi and Joyita Sengupta:

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.