Press reports from India over the past two months suggest that some 20 people have been lynched by mobs, and the latest in these horrific incidents came on Friday when a 27-year-old man was brutally murdered by a 2,000-strong mob armed with sticks and stones in a village in Karnataka’s Bidar district. This follows a similar incident on July 1 when five people were lynched by a mob in Maharashtra, and this spate of barbarism is traced back to eastern Jharkhand state in May after rumours on WhatsApp about child kidnappers led to the deaths of seven men.
What is most troubling aside from the obvious brutal manner of these deaths, is that authorities have clarified that there was no truth whatsoever in these rumours, and that the targeted people were innocent. Clearly there is a problem then when it comes to people’s blind faith in believing — and reacting — to what they read on WhatsApp, and also then by extension, the responsibility of the messaging service in ensuring what is carried on it is not fake news.
While the police and authorities make arrests in these lynchings and hold those responsible for their heinous crimes to account, they are also trying to hold WhatsApp to account. There’s also an irony in that these brutal incidents are themselves often recorded on mobile phones and then shared on WhatsApp again, fermenting the mob’s hysteria and perpetuating the incident.
Let’s be clear: There can never be any place in any corner of India for mobocracy now, and a democratic and free society where orderly protest is allowed, any such incidents of rule by mob is unacceptable, unwarranted and unjustified — and anyone taking part in this mob violence ought to face stern punishment under fully enforceable public order laws.
Similarly, anyone who uses WhatsApp or similar messaging platforms or social media programmes to promote, solicit or engage in anti-social behaviour that endangers life or property should face prosecution under public order offences, and failing to use personal judgement to delete noxious messages should also be an offence, just as we are all are tasked with using good judgement in all aspects our daily lives. Yes, WhatsApp, as with all other social media platforms, has a responsibility too to ensure the veracity of its content, and it’s not an acceptable defence to simply say that it’s just the messenger and should, therefore, not be shot.
And India’s parliamentarians need to follow instructions given to it by its Supreme Court to create new penal provisions to eradicate this menace of mobile mobocracy.