Visiting the village where a WhatsApp rumor led to the deaths of 5 people


The spread of misinformation and fake news on social media and platforms like WhatsApp can have major consequences. In Rainpada village in India, it led to the lynchings of five men and, in turn, the making of a ghost town, BuzzFeed News reported Sunday.  

In July, five people were reportedly lynched in the village of Rainpada in Dhule, India, after a rumor that they were child kidnappers circulated on WhatsApp. The suspects, who according to BuzzFeed are now awaiting trial, thought the men were kidnappers because of videos they’d seen on the platform warning against child abduction by outsiders.   

Since May, BuzzFeed reports, at least 16 people have been lynched in India after mobs were provoked by misinformation on WhatsApp. The platform and its parent company, Facebook, have grappled with how to combat fake news and misinformation on their platforms. 

BuzzFeed visited the village where the five men were killed. Here are a few key points from the story:

  • Three weeks after the lynchings, Rainpada became a ghost town. Hundreds of people left because they feared a police crackdown, according to BuzzFeed. “I’m not sure if this village will ever recover from what happened,” Daulat Tungya Babul, a 59-year-old farmer, told the publication.
  • After the lynchings, WhatsApp added a feature that labels forwarded messages and also published full-page ads in Indian newspapers as a PSA against fake news. But the Indian government reportedly wanted more from the company, and asked WhatsApp to create tools that could trace the origin of messages so authorities could find the creators of false content. WhatsApp spokesman Carl Woog told BuzzFeed News that “building ‘traceability’ into WhatsApp would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp creating the potential for serious misuse.” 
  • WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels went to India to meet with politicians in August after facing mounting pressure from Indian media and lawmakers. But he didn’t visit Rainpada, where the lynchings took place. In fact, no executives from WhatsApp have visited the village. 

WhatsApp didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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