Indian police have arrested 16 people after two men became the latest victims of hysteria over WhatsApp rumours of child kidnappers.
The men had stopped to ask directions in north-eastern Assam state when they were beaten to death by a large mob.
Rumours of child kidnappings are spreading across India over WhatsApp, and have already led to the deaths of seven other people in the past month.
Police say it is proving hard to debunk the messages on social media.
The two latest victims have been identified as Nilotpal Das, an audio engineer and Abijeet Nath, a digital artist – both residents of Guwahati, the largest city in Assam.
Police say the pair were attacked when they stopped at a village to ask for directions. Residents reportedly believed they were “kidnappers” they had been warned about on WhatsApp.
A video of the attack went viral over the weekend, where one of the men can be seen pleading for his life. On Sunday, students and activists filled the streets of Guwahati to protest against the killings.
What is fuelling the rumours?
People are citing a video that is being spread on WhatsApp that purportedly shows a child being abducted.
In Bangalore, where two people were killed last month, a local showed BBC correspondent Dan Johnson the video on his mobile phone. In it, two men on a motorcycle pull up to a group of children. One of them grabs a child and they ride off.
But the video is not real. It’s not even from India. An unedited version of the video shows it is a child safety film from Pakistan, designed to create awareness. The last segment of the video, which shows one of the men holding up a sign that explains the incident, has been edited out in the version being spread on WhatsApp.
The video is accompanied by text messages that talk about “kidnappers” arriving in the city with the aim of snatching children.
Though it was initially spread via the messaging app, the panic was further fuelled when some regional media channels picked up the rumours, lending them credibility.
This has prompted locals to attack those who look unfamiliar or cannot speak the regional language.